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Pharmacists urge RPS to limit board terms to improve diversity

RPS: We operate an open election system for any RPS member to apply
RPS: We operate an open election system for any RPS member to apply

Pharmacists have called on the RPS to update its “antiquated and disjointed” system and limit terms of office, to encourage fresh candidates and greater diversity.

As the next round of elections for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s (RPS) national boards in England, Scotland and Wales begins, pharmacists took to Twitter to question the professional body’s policy on term lengths.

The RPS currently allows board members to hold office for an unlimited number of terms, which Brendon Jiang, a GP pharmacist in Somerset, said risks boards becoming “stale”.

“The RPS governance arrangements [are] antiquated and disjointed when compared with other similar organisations,” Mr Jiang – who has nominated himself for the English pharmacy board in the upcoming elections – told C+D last week (March 21).

Fixed terms would increase diversity on the board, he said. “There are board members who have served the RPS and formerly the RPSGB for up to 15 years. While I am grateful for their service…from an outsider’s perspective [the RPS] could appear to be a bit of an old boys’ club.”

However, “a balance needs to be struck between retaining experience and having too high a turnover”.

“Board members need time”

Wicker Pharmacy chairman Martin Bennett agreed fixed terms could be useful, but “you have to come to some sort of compromise”.

It takes a few years to understand the issues affecting pharmacists, and “if board members haven’t been in post long they might not understand how the organisation works well enough to be able to contribute”, Mr Bennett said.

He suggested four to eight years as the most effective length of office.

Mr Bennett argued against a ban on repeat candidacy bids, but said there should be “reasonable gap” of a number of years before candidates are allowed to stand again.

“We need fresh thinking”

Mike Hewitson, owner of Beaminster Pharmacy in Dorset, who stood down from the board of the National Pharmacy Association after eight years in 2018, said fresh people are essential to challenge the status quo.

“I don’t think people should do any more than two or three terms. Any more than this and representatives become institutionalised and less of an independent check on authority.

“We need fresh thinking to look ahead to the next five years in pharmacy, but the only way for things to change is if the members demand it.”

RPS board chair: No desire to keep returning

RPS English board chair Sandra Gidley has been a board member since 2012 and is coming to the end of her second two-year stint as chair. She told C+D she has no plans to return for re-election time and time again.

“All good things should come to an end, to make way for new and younger people and to develop fresh ideas,” she said.

“I think three sets of three-year terms is enough to develop a leadership role and provide support to a successor.

“As much as I love this role, being a leader means you have to know when to step aside and make way for new ideas and fresh energy,” Ms Gidley added.

RPS reviewing governance processes

When asked by C+D whether the RPS is considering introducing fixed terms, it said the society operates “an open election system which welcomes all members of the RPS to apply”.

The RPS typically attracts more than 20 nominations at each election cycle, it explained, and the professional body is currently reviewing its governance processes “to ensure we are continuing our track record of fairness and transparency for all our members”.

Nominations for the national board roles close on April 4.

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