“Great vitality in the pharmacy research community”: Our Chairman’s reflections on our first 18 months…

Professor Anthony Smith is Chair of Pharmacy Research UK and Vice-Provost (Education) at University College London. 

It has now been over a year since the Pharmacy Practice Research Trust (PPRT) and the Pharmaceutical Trust for Education and Charitable Objects (PTECO) joined to form Pharmacy Research UK; the principal research charity supporting pharmacists and pharmacy to improve healthcare for the benefit of patients and the public.

We have recently submitted our report and financial statements to the Charity Commission reflecting on our first 18 months and our plans for the future. Drafting this report has been a useful exercise; allowing us to celebrate our achievements and consider how best to build on these.

2012/13 could be summarised as laying the foundations for a sustainable future, central to which has been developing and implementing procedures to ensure rigor in our administrative and governance processes. Therefore, we were pleased to secure our membership of the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) early in 2013, which we consider to be a quality marker for any charity involved in medical research. We also secured our position as National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) non-commercial partners in 2013. This evidences how we take into account the priorities, needs and realities of the NHS in making decisions about the research that we fund. It also brings benefits to our funded researchers through the inclusion of their studies on the NIHR Clinical Research Network Portfolio, and research delivery support from the Clinical Research Networks.

Our Scientific Advisory Panel (a key requirement of AMRC membership) has been established and provides us with scientific leadership and expertise; ensuring that our peer review and project oversight meets the necessary quality standards. We are indebted to them for their advice and guidance in what are our formative years.

A challenge for any organisation, but particularly for those in start-up, is building visibility, developing a voice and ensuring it is heard. Through our founder charities the PPRT and PTECO, we had the advantage of good existing networks and a portfolio of ongoing research on which to build.  We have used these networks, and the goodwill therein, to build a strong social media presence and generate discussion and debate around emergent research findings. Two such examples of this in the last 18 months are: ‘Arthriting’ an innovative project which explored the relationship between identity and medication use amongst adolescents with arthritis; and, ‘MINA’, a project aiming to derive evidence to inform recommendations regarding the future delivery of minor ailments services in community pharmacies in the UK.

As a Trust Board we do not hold a collective view on the outputs of the research we fund. Instead, our aim is to be approachable, open and engaged with current thought and debate in pharmacy and to stimulate this through the generation of new knowledge which will influence policy and practice, most likely through: bringing pertinent issues nearer to, or onto, the policy agenda; translating findings into arguments and advocacy rather than revealing an uncontested ‘truth’; or, boosting the persuasiveness of an existing argument.

We are mindful of the need to engage stakeholders throughout the research process; design, delivery and dissemination. We have involved stakeholders in our research priority setting exercise and we will continue to build on this; ensuring transparency in our research priority setting and further building a sense of co-created, co-owned research. We believe that this activity, in part, contributed to the unprecedented response to our first funding call; a 300% increase in applications received by founding charities, PTECO or PPRT. This response also demonstrates great vitality in the pharmacy research community, something which should be celebrated – a heartening reminder of the appetite for intellectual exploration in the profession.

We, as Trustees, are committed to the important work of Pharmacy Research UK and as such a key focus for us in 2014 and beyond is to safeguard our financial future. Fundraising and partnership working are central to this and we are keen to develop relationships with organisations to find areas of common interest and work together to extend our reach and impact. I am optimistic about this given our now firm operational base and the enthusiasm and vigour with which are activities have been embraced. This leads me to say a great many thanks to all those who have supported and promoted our activities in the last 18 months.

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