In conversation with Paul Sinclair AM, former member of the Pharmacy Council of NSW

Paul Sinclair was first registered as a pharmacist in 1981 and owned community pharmacies in south west Sydney, southern highlands and the central coast during 1981 to 2017.

Paul’s professional activities also included Past President NSW Branch Pharmacy Guild of Australia and National Vice President Pharmacy Guild of Australia, as well as Past Chair Australian Association of Consultant Pharmacists. In 2019, Paul was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for his services to pharmacy, the community and local government.

You were a member of the Pharmacy Council of NSW for 9 years, almost from the very beginning of the Council, when it was first established in 2010. What led you to become part of the regulatory side of pharmacy?

Originally, I was appointed by the then Health Minister Jillian Skinner to fill a casual vacancy on the Pharmacy Council. As a member of the Guild, my involvement with the Council was encouraged as it was considered important that a community pharmacist and current pharmacy owner be on the Council; someone who had a detailed knowledge not only of the operations within a pharmacy but also the broader pharmacy environment.

Tell us a little bit more about your former role as council member. What does it involve?

When I joined the Council, it was a steep learning curve. While I was aware of the legislation, I came to the role not really aware of the mechanisms of the Council’s functions. The role has evolved over the nine years and the workload has increased, with a significant increase year to year in numbers of complaints to be dealt with and numbers of hearings held with errant practitioners. The Council has become more aware of the need for increased engagement with the profession, to identify appropriate remedial action for pharmacists who come before it and to help keep pharmacists better informed about their responsibilities.This has resulted in the development of Council’s compounding resources and work is currently being undertaken focussing on proprietor oversight. The Council’s newsletter has also become more informative and relevant.

What are some of the difficulties you faced as someone working in the regulatory aspect of your profession?

It is challenging dealing with practitioners with varied levels of understanding of relevant legislation and guidelines. Many pharmacists are fully committed running small businesses. The increased compliance requirements across all levels of government have made many pharmacists very time poor and unable to allocate time and resources required to adequately address their regulatory requirements. At other times, it was difficult to see young pharmacists struggling under the pressure and expectations of workload in an environment where there is a distinct lack of support and awareness from pharmacy owners. There were also times when we dealt with matters outside my areas of expertise, such as hospital pharmacy or some aspects of compounding. Fortunately, this expertise is available among other members of the Council.

How did your role as council member shape your work as a pharmacist?

Being involved with the professional regulator has made me acutely aware of the legal requirements of my practice. I acknowledge that many pharmacists may not be as focussed on these requirements, but I see this understanding as necessary as it provides a clear roadmap to practise and ensures that the health and safety of the public is not put at risk. I have also gained a heightened awareness of the importance of ethical conduct having witnessed the ethical conflicts that pharmacists face; poor ethical choices invariably lead to poor outcomes.

I have also gained a greater appreciation of the notion of risk management in my role as a pharmacist, and a heightened awareness that risk assessment is critical to everything we do.

What are the main things you gained from serving as a member of the Pharmacy Council?

I gained great satisfaction from seeing pharmacists acknowledging shortcomings in their practice, taking remedial actions by participating in mentoring or further education, and emerging on the other side as the best practicing pharmacist they can be.

I have enjoyed working with a diverse group of members on the Council, including pharmacists from different practice backgrounds and disciplines, consumer and legal representatives. My role on the Council has been well supported by the very competent staff working at HPCA.

Over the past 9 years, how has the work of the Council evolved? What are some of the changes you observed in regulatory trends?

There have been significant changes to pharmacy practice (vaccination, compounding, professional services and disease state management services) over the past decade. As the scope of practice of pharmacists has increased so has the scope of work of the Council to ensure services are delivered in a safe and appropriate manner.

Changes in regulatory trends include increases in complaints involving S8 drugs and diversion of opioids associated with dispensing of fraudulent prescriptions, and a stronger focus by the regulator on proprietor responsibilities.

What do you see as the future of pharmacy in NSW/Australia?

I’m very bullish about the future of pharmacy. We are a highly underutilised profession and there is much more we can do in supporting healthy ageing and improving patient health outcomes. The accessibility of pharmacists, and their highly trained workforce, will allow pharmacists to play bigger roles in primary healthcare outcomes in the future.

Also, in particular in NSW, the Council’s role in oversight of ownership of pharmacies will do much to maintain what is regarded as one of the best community pharmacy models in the world.

What would you say to anyone interested in becoming a member of the Pharmacy Council in the future?

I would certainly encourage any pharmacist, whether they practise primarily in hospital, academia or community pharmacy who would like to give something back to their profession, to seek involvement with the Council when the opportunity arises. It is not “sexy” or “glamorous” work, but it is very satisfying to be able to help other pharmacists and I hope that my contribution over the past 9 years is seen as a positive one.