Starting important conversations

31 October 2016

Regulation takes many forms. Sometimes the most useful intervention we can make as a regulator is to bring people together to start the challenging conversations that are needed about complex issues. Through these conversations we can begin to build a greater understanding of the issues and to identify actions that need to be taken and who should take them.

This October, we started two such conversations.

Understanding issues relating to ethnicity and academic performance

As a follow-up to the preliminary findings of research conducted by OPM on Black-African candidate performance in the registration assessment, we brought together key stakeholders, including academics, pharmacy professionals, pharmacy students, and representatives of professional bodies, to discuss the broader issues surrounding disproportionality in the academic performance of BME students and ways to address this.

Our keynote speaker, Professor Uduak Archibong, who heads the Institute for Diversity and Inclusion for the University of Bradford, welcomed our event for beginning a critical conversation about an issue that needed to be addressed, and called for leaders to work together to achieve success for everybody.

Through the workshop discussions, it was clear that this is an issue that resists an easy diagnosis or, suffice it to say, a simple solution.  The take-home message, however, was that a broad-based and multi-pronged approach and some targeted interventions could begin to help improve the experiences and performance of all students – not just those from BME communities.  Among the interventions discussed were engaging students early on to build confidence and competence in communication and promoting structural inclusiveness and diversity at the institutional level.

Based on the robust discussions during and after the event, and feedback we have received, most attendees saw it as an important first step in helping BME and other candidates live up to their potential.  We hope it provides the catalyst to leaders across pharmacy to consider what they can each do to help ensure pharmacy education and training is as open and fair to all as possible. We will use our regulatory levers to help promote and achieve this, including the standards we set and our accreditation of courses.  We will be consulting on new standards for education and training in the next year and you can expect to hear more about how equality will be embedded in the new standards then.

Professionalism under pressure

In mid-October we held a seminar to bring people together, from inside and outside pharmacy, to discuss the pressures that some pharmacy professionals are reporting in the workplace and to consider what role different organisations and individuals can play to address the issues raised.

What came through very clearly from the discussions at the event is that individuals and organisations across and beyond pharmacy have a role to play in developing a culture that supports professionalism and prioritises the quality of care for patients over profit.

As I said in my closing remarks at the event, individual health professionals and teams will always carry a big responsibility for ensuring that their actions are directed towards the best interests and well-being of the people they are serving, and not to the commercial or organisational interests of their employers. This is a core aspect of professionalism, however challenging the context you are working in.

But this in no way means that health professionals alone should bear the burden of balancing workplace pressures against their own judgement and the good of the patient.

Organisations, individuals and networks which shape professional culture and provide leadership in these debates have a clear opportunity and challenge to find new ways to support and empower the members of the profession they lead and represent and who may be struggling.

Pharmacy owners must create an organisational and cultural context in which professionalism can flourish and where professionals are empowered in their professional judgement to do right by their patients -ahead of financial considerations.   Corporate boards, too, must ensure they have appropriate governance systems and processes in place to assure that their businesses are meeting the relevant regulatory standards.

And those who commission and negotiate community pharmacy services should also make sure through service and contract design that support for professionalism becomes a part of the system, rather than sending a message that says only volume is valued.

We also have a part to play but what was clear to me through the discussions is that regulation alone cannot provide the answer. One of the things we will continue to do is to take forward these and other important conversations and, in this way, make sure that momentum towards addressing these issues thoroughly and thoughtfully is maintained.

Next month we will be inviting all pharmacy professionals and pharmacy owners to take part in this ongoing conversation, through an online workshop where they can share views and ideas. The online workshop will ask participants what helps pharmacy professionals and owners to provide quality care for patients and the public, and what the barriers may be. Please look out for your invitation to join the online workshop and take part if you can.

Listen to Ducan's closing remarks from the #ProfPressures seminar