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PDA helps to launch a pharmacist union in Poland

By Piotr Merks, General Secretary ZZPF, Pharmacists’ Union in Poland

Wed 21st December 2022 The PDA

My name is Piotr Merks, and I am a pharmacist now working in Poland. In 2005, I was a practicing pharmacist in the UK. It was during that time, I discovered the benefits of being a PDA member and I also learned how many other pharmacists thought the same.

Sadly, I also knew that in Poland no such organisation existed. Trade unions were present before the Second World War and were closed by the communist government in 1945. Since then, all pharmacy organisations were mainly the ones representing employers rather than the individual pharmacist. Pharmacists would sometimes join a large general union where the number of pharmacists in the union was small compared to the rest of its members. I knew and had seen just how ineffective this was in the UK as very little attention was ever paid to pharmacists.

In most cases, pharmacists simply did not join any kind of representative organisation and the employers could do as they wished.

Knowing that I would eventually return to Poland, I decided that it would be good to open an organisation like the PDA in Poland. One year at a pharmacy conference, where I was presenting a research project, I approached Mark Koziol, PDA Chairman, for the first time, I succeeded in catching his attention about our Polish situation and the need of support for Polish pharmacists.

Mark agreed to help and worked on his contacts within EPhEU, the European organisation of which he was a committee member. In 2015, the General Assembly of EPhEU was being held in the UK, in Birmingham, and I was invited to present the current Polish situation of pharmacists to the international conference delegates. I was able to explain about all of the problems for employee pharmacists in Poland and also my worries about many parts of pharmacy practice because of patients’ safety.

There was a very low level of job satisfaction, and many Polish pharmacists had concerns and worries about the pharmacy chamber, which was the pharmacist disciplining organisation in Poland. For many years Poland tried to implement pharmaceutical care services, it felt to me that the national chamber had made many mistakes. In pharmacy practice, many legal aspects of internationally recognised standards were ignored by some owners and the profession was not opening itself up for international cooperation with experts.

Following my presentation, EPhEU decided to provide the financial support that I needed to launch a brand-new pharmacist union in Poland. I and a group of pharmacist employees met with lawyers to agree a constitution and they completed the procedure. Finally, in 2017, we established our Polish union, which is called ZZPF (the Professional Union of Pharmacist Employees), we were then admitted into membership of EPhEU. In that same year, I was extremely proud to be able to host the EPhEU General Assembly in Warsaw in 2018 where, in front of my international pharmacist colleagues who had come from all over Europe, a minister of the Polish government congratulated us on our launch.

Mark Koziol and Piotr Merks at EPhEU General Assembly – Warsaw, 2018

For me this was the first sign, that we had done a good thing and hit the right audience. For many years previously, I was involved in pharmacy chamber work (this was the same as the RPSGB in the UK), but at a point in time I decided to fully commit to a trade union approach as I felt that this was the only way to make relevant, transparent, and important decisions for employees. One of the most important things was also international exchange of thought and ideas, where we could use the experiences of EPhEU partners to avoid mistakes in Poland while building the ZZPF reputation.

Thanks to EPhEU, and especially the PDA, we are now heading towards a new road map, new standards, and transparency. As a new organisation, run by a young, motivated group of people, we have been able to act fast.

Our membership of EPhEU gave us a chance to work with some good people and organisations, as well as the best experts. We can now participate in the global transformation of pharmacy practice. The best ideas can be deployed in Poland with a much greater chance of success.

On several occasions, members of the EPhEU executive have supported me in meetings with the government and at conferences, in fact I have invited Mark Koziol to provide support with a conference soon after Christmas about the pharmacist experiences of MURs in the UK.

Many research projects are done with the international collaboration of EPhEU, also, our new Polish ideas can work in other countries. Some of our best successes came from ideas borrowed from EPhEU partners. The PDA educational leaflets from the UK about doing Covid vaccinations safely resulted in more than 260,000 leaflets being distributed to members of the public in Poland and more than 1000 posters being displayed in National Pharmacy Vaccinations Centres and Well Pharmacy Vaccination Centres. We implemented a strategy document, a Road Map for Polish Pharmacy Sector, and we are now working on the hospital pharmacy strategy for next five years.

We have done many research projects, some of the published papers were on the United Nations most quoted alumteric.

I am very pleased that I learned so much in my time working as a pharmacist in the UK. I think that UK pharmacists are very fortunate to have an organisation like the PDA that doesn’t just look after them, but also is keen to help those that want to help pharmacists in their own countries. I believe that for great things to happen, there must always be somebody to help.

Article by Piotr Merks, General Secretary ZZPF


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