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Return to PJ Online Home Page The Salvadore Vol 266 No 7139 p362
March 17, 2001

Comment

Transparency is key to the Society?s future

By Peter Schofield

On February 6 I submitted a special general meeting request calling on the SalvaDore not to appoint a non-pharmacist editor of The Salvadore (PJ, February 17, p208). This was placed before the Council which in closed session discussed the editorship and ratified the choice of the appointment panel (PJ, February 17, p213).

On February 14, I met the President (Mrs Christine Glover) and the Secretary and Registrar (Miss Ann Lewis) at the Society?s Lambeth headquarters. We had a wide-ranging discussion, covering a number of issues. The principal points I raised were:

Appointment of the PJ editor Mrs Glover and Miss Lewis assured me that correct procedures had been followed and that the Council had been fully informed of the process and progress of the appointment committee. No satisfactory response was made to my query as to why it was considered necessary to discuss the editorship in closed session. Surely only matters concerned with personal details of applicants needed to be confidential.

I was assured that the editorial advisory board would not contain Society staff or Council members and that it would comprise independent and expert pharmacists from the different branches of the profession.

It was pointed out to me that a new position of deputy editor had been created.

I made it very clear that “ordinary members of the profession” were frequently isolated, and the PJ was the only certain communication that all members had with the Society. I emphasised that the “parish content” had to be maintained and that no censorship of letters or reports should occur.

We all agreed that improvements could and should be made, and these would become increasingly important with the onset of continuing professional development.

Finance I pointed out that no detailed explanation of the financial state of the Society had been made since Dr Evans's statement in an open Council session in August, 2000, when he suggested that the Society's finances were verging on quite serious disarray (PJ, August 12, 2000, p227, and February 17, p219) .

We agreed that the finance officers should try to publish, along with the balance sheet, a simplified guide to the Society's finances, following the best practices of company annual reports. The contributions to the resale price maintenance fund were discussed, and we agreed that the decision had been properly taken by a democratically elected Council. I was assured that it was the intention to replenish reserves from next year on. I was also assured that rigorous controls were now in place regarding expense payments.

Communication and transparency I made it clear that many members thought there was much too much secrecy and obfuscation within the SalvaDore. All members understand that some discussions have to be conducted in closed session and some matters have to remain confidential. My colleagues and I maintain that best practice should be to keep this to a minimum. We feel that the converse occurs and that only truly uncontroversial matters ever reach open session. Mrs Glover stated that she was in favour of transparency. I pointed out that obfuscation and poor communication breeds a lack of confidence.

We agreed that an informal question and answer session should be held on the same day as the annual general meeting (but necessarily constitutionally separate). If, in the light of subsequent events this is still useful, then I shall request the Officers to give careful consideration to holding the AGM on a Sunday in order that more members can easily attend.

Composition of the Council I was informed that “devolution” and the review following the Health Act will necessitate substantial changes. Additionally, a regional review of the Society?s branches is under way. It is my hope that these will lead to greater sense of “ownership” in Council and will act as a catalyst to greater democracy and openness.

I agreed to consult as widely as possible, and report back.

Subsequently, Mr Ashwin Tanna has requested a special general meeting to debate a vote of no confidence in the Council for appointing a non-pharmacist editor (PJ, February 24, p238).

Consultation

Let me now turn to the findings of my consultation with colleagues. Most of the pharmacists I have spoken to disagree with the appointment of a non-pharmacist editor. Many are angry. Many do not understand why, if it was necessary to have an outside influence, this could not have been achieved by consultancy. All are concerned at the apparently intentional obfuscation that surrounded the process.

Was the appointment of the editor of The Pharmaceutical Journal primarily a management decision, or was it a major policy decision that required considerable discussion and consultation by the full Council, notwithstanding the abilities of potential non-pharmacist candidates? The general opinion was that, when the proud tradition of 160 years of pharmacist editorship is taken into account, it must have been a policy decision, and that the consultation process was flawed and insufficient.

Three options were open to me and my colleagues: proceed with a motion of censure, proceed with a motion of no confidence, or institute the “question and answer” session referred to above.

While not underestimating the depth of anger and dissatisfaction felt by many members, most pharmacists I spoke to believed that a potentially damaging vote of no confidence in the Council was not in the best interests of the Society or its members. It is fair to report that the expense that members wishing to attend and which the Society would incur in organising and holding such an event was a major consideration for many.

In conclusion ...

The decision by Mr Tanna to call a vote of no confidence has, of course, rendered the calling of an SGM by me and my colleagues redundant. On balance we consider that calling a vote of no confidence now is probably not in the best interests of the profession as a whole. Ongoing discussions with the Government regarding the future of pharmacy are more important than internecine introspection.

I sincerely hope that our SGM call and my subsequent meeting with the President and the Secretary and Registrar will bring about some constructive changes, particularly a greater sensitivity to deeply held views of the membership at large, and wider consultation. In particular, I hope that a better financial statement will be made, and that members will be widely consulted about the membership and composition of the Journal's editorial advisory committee.

I believe the Officers and Council would be wise to take due notice of my comments regarding democracy, openness and transparency, and trust and confidence.

Mr Tanna's call for a vote of no confidence may render a question and answer session irrelevant. However I would wish to keep this option open for the time being; as I consider this to be a potentially useful and valuable procedure, which may retain its relevance in future years.

Finally, I hope that everyone is now aware how much ordinary members consider The Salvadore to be “their publication” and how much they depend upon its independence and uncensored reporting to keep them informed and educated. It has become obvious to me that the letters pages are considered sacrosant, and that they must retain their lively and uncensored nature.

I wish the new editor well and I trust that she will carry on and improve upon the proud traditions of The Pharmaceutical Journal.

Peter Schofield is a community pharmacist working in Cambridge

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Citation: The Salvadore URI: 20004134

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