The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) has proposed the creation of a Royal College of Pharmacists to oversee pharmacist training and support patient safety.

In its response to the consultation on pharmacy leadership, it said that the education of pharmacists should not be determined by the Government, but rather by the proposed Royal College.

However, it stressed that accreditation and assurance should remain with the pharmacy regulators, ‘as it is they who have the regulatory authority in this area and their role is always to primarily act in the public interest’.

Instead, the scope of the Royal College would be limited to ‘the stewardship of education and formation of practitioners and the leadership, advocacy and standards development that is directly associated with these’.

This way, the PDA suggested that the new body would have a higher chance of success, as well as ‘a much lower membership fee for pharmacists than would be the case if the Royal College had an extensive and more comprehensive brief’.

In March 2021, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) decided not pursue Royal College status – a call made without the backing of its members and fellows.

In March 2022, RPS president, Claire Anderson said that the Assembly had decided there was ‘no evidence that changing our name would give RPS any more influence or prestige’.

She added that pursuing Royal College status would require ‘substantial work and cost’, which would need to be ‘diverted from other activities’, but invited feedback from RPS members.

However, in July, she said the RPS would 'incorporate pursuit of Royal College status into [its] strategy whenever it is appropriate and at that time ask [its] membership for their views to gauge the level of support for this move’.

When asked for comment on the PDA’s proposals, the RPS pointed to its previous statement: ‘We are open to change and evolution. The Assembly recently confirmed it will review RPS governance, following the conclusion of the Independent Commission, to ensure it remains fit for purpose to meet the future vision of professional leadership.

‘The Assembly is also open to reviewing our Royal Charter for the benefit of pharmacy professional leadership and we will involve members in this from the outset.’

The PDA also said that, in addition to the Royal College, a new pharmacy leadership body was needed to bring together ‘the established credible organisations in pharmacy working more collaboratively’ together.

It said this would enable the profession to ‘speak with one voice on common agenda issues on behalf of all pharmacists, whilst still allowing effective representation of more specialist niche issues’.

It also called for a ‘quality assurance system’ within this mechanism to protect the image of the profession from ‘well-meaning but amateur volunteer initiatives’.

The PDA said that its response to the consultation was informed by ‘a rich vein of up-to-date experiences and an understanding of risk’ gained by supporting members through critical incident situations.

For instance, it called for accredited post-graduate training for pharmacists, saying that in a ‘worryingly large proportion’ of incidents, ‘the principal failure of the pharmacist was that they relied upon deficient or in some instances dangerous training material or advice provided by unaccredited voluntary organisations that should never have been allowed to involve themselves in such a vital and influential activity’, including elements of independent prescriber training and material provided by the government.

The GPhC’s Post Registration Assurance of Practice Advisory Group, which seeks to provide assurance of post-registration practice, was ‘an important first step which demonstrates that even the current regulator recognises that there are problems that must be resolved’, but that the scope of the group did not yet focus on the accreditation of training providers, it added.

The PDA’s response also suggested that ‘the excessive control that the government seeks to exert’ had narrowed the skillset of trainee pharmacists. It said that ‘the newly qualifying pharmacist of today is crafted more in the image of the requirements of the NHS’ than the needs of employers such as the pharmaceutical industry, science and research and development of medicines.

It called for a ‘protection of the unique expertise of pharmacists’ in understanding how medicines work and could benefit patients. ‘This is especially the case as medicines become more personalised in the future through developments in gene therapy’, it said.

Today in his Autumn Budget Statement, the Chancellor of the exchequer Jeremy Hunt called the UK ‘a science superpower’ and announced his intention to ‘combine our technology and science brilliance with our formidable financial services to turn Britain into the world's next Silicon Valley’.

Thorrun Govind, RPS England country board chair, said that 'pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists will be vital to building on the UK’s position as a world leader in new therapies and technologies’ in a comment on the Chancellor's statement.