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Understanding pharmacy organisations

It is important that dispensing GPs know who's who in the world of pharmacy, writes Dr Jeremy Phipps.

Pharmacists are involved with range of different organisations
Pharmacists are involved with range of different organisations

I recently attended a large commercial exhibition aimed primarily at pharmacists. Representatives of several national organisations for pharmacies were present and I was embarrassed by how little I knew about many of them.

Those GPs who run pharmacies may be aware of these groups but I expect the majority of doctors, even dispensing GPs like me, will have only passing awareness of many of the associations. Below is a short reference guide to some of the more important pharmacy organisations.

Even before devolution there were some historical differences between the separate countries of the UK. The development of devolved assemblies has further complicated matters, particularly regarding the bodies for community pharmacy that negotiate contracts with the NHS on behalf of their members.

Community pharmacy negotiating bodies
The largest of the community pharmacy negotiating bodies is the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), which represents pharmacies in contract discussions for England and Wales - similar to the way the GPC represents GPs.

At a local level, there are Local Pharmaceutical Committees (LPCs), the equivalent of our LMCs, for which the PSNC has an overall supporting role.

The PSNC acts to secure the best contractual terms for pharmacy contractors. Other bodies are represented on its committee, including the Company Chemists Association, the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies and the National Pharmacy Association.

Regional representatives are elected from the English regions and another nominated by Community Pharmacy Wales, the body which represents the interests of pharmacies in Wales.

In Scotland, the government negotiates contracts with Community Pharmacy Scotland, which represents community pharmacy owners.

The regional groupings of pharmacists in Scotland are the Pharmacy Contractor Committees.

Just to add further confusion, the grouping representing community pharmacists in Northern Ireland is the Pharmacy Contractor Committee (NI).

I have attempted to summarise the functions of some of the other important representative groupings for pharmacists, but more information is available from their websites.

Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp)
The Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) represents and protects the interests of community pharmacy companies with between five and 300 branches. It has a close relationship with the National Pharmacy Association.

College of Pharmacy Practice
Set up in 1981 by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, the College of Pharmacy Practice promotes excellence in pharmacy practice and support continuing education and training. It is open to all pharmacists and pharmacy students.

Company Chemists' Association
This is the trade body for the nine largest pharmacy chain groups, including Boots, Lloyds and the Co-operative. Overall, the association represents just under half of all the pharmacy contractors in the UK.

It aims to foster co-operation between it members, represent their interests and promote these at a national level.

It is the grouping for chains larger than that represented by the AIMp.

General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC)
This new organisation will start its work in April. It is an independent regulator for pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and pharmacy premises and will take over some of the functions of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain. It has a similar role to the GMC but with the added role of inspecting and licensing premises. It does not cover Northern Ireland, which has its own regulatory authority - the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland.

National Pharmacy Association (NPA)
The National Pharmacy Association is the trade organisation for the owners of community pharmacies. Formed in 1921, its core purpose is the support of members both professionally and commercially.

It acts to represent community pharmacy in dealing with the government and the wider community and represents almost all community pharmacies.

Pharmacists' Defence Association (PDA)
This is analogous to GPs' medical defence organisations, providing professional indemnity insurance to more than 15,000 pharmacists. It publishes a quarterly magazine highlighting many of the current difficulties facing pharmacists.

Only 10 per cent of pharmacists own a pharmacy, the great majority are either employed or work as locums. This leads to a different working situation from medical primary care with a more adversarial relationship with large pharmacy chains for many pharmacists.

Some pharmacists believe their views are not heard by many of the pharmacy organisations, feeling that these are dominated by the pharmacy chains. This is comparable to the views expressed by many salaried GPs regarding medical representative bodies.

The PDA reflects these issues and is somewhat more radical in its position than medical defence organisations.

Pharmacist Support
This is a welfare charity which aims to support pharmacists requiring financial or health support in a similar manner to the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund for doctors.

It runs a stress helpline and gives financial assistance and debt advice to working and retired pharmacists and their dependants, including pharmacy students.

Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain
Historically, this has been responsible for regulation and leading the pharmacy profession. This can be compared to the roles played by the GMC and the RCGP for doctors. For pharmacy, it has been decided to separate these roles leading to the formation of the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), which will have responsibility for the regulatory role.

Although membership of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society has been mandatory, this will no longer be the case as it moves to a function of professional leadership in all branches of pharmacy.

This will not affect Northern Ireland, which will be keeping its Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland.

  • Dr Jeremy Phipps is a GP in Lincolnshire.

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