Vanessa Hunter is a shining example of just how important the role of the pharmacy technician can be within the community pharmacy team

Vanessa Hunter began working with her husband David at Trossachs Pharmacy 12 years ago when their children reached school age. Although it was not normal company policy for families to work together, Vanessa quickly adapted to pharmacy life and she and David found that they had no trouble keeping their work and home lives separate.

Thanks to her background in retail, her caring nature and her enthusiasm for training and hard work, it wasn’t long before Vanessa had progressed through her qualifications and attained the level of accuracy checking technician (ACT). In addition, her flair for merchandising also helped to boost the pharmacy’s front-of shop sales.

Relocation

Vanessa’s passion for pharmacy was put to the test when Trossachs Pharmacy relocated from Callander High Street to Callander Medical Centre eight years ago. The pharmacy’s role changed considerably, taking on a more clinical focus and working closely with the two general practices located at the centre.

“Before the relocation, we were mainly dealing with repeat prescriptions or tourists with things like insect bites. Now, we get doctors, nurses and receptionists coming in every day with queries about the dosage of a patient’s medication, for example, or to request a wound dressing,” says Vanessa. According to David, Vanessa has been invaluable in helping the pharmacy to adapt to its changing role and integrate seamlessly within the medical centre’s systems.

He says: “None of the staff here have had any problem seeking her help. Her knowledge of  what we can or cannot do is vast. As a result, co-workers have confidence in Vanessa’s experience and training and trust her information.”

Vanessa finds advising customers about minor ailments especially rewarding

Joined up care

Due to these excellent working relationships, Trossachs Pharmacy is able to offer a wide range of services. These include reviewing how patients are taking their medication; close liaison with the GPs when new medication is prescribed to patients; the minor ailments service; smoking cessation services; the unscheduled care service, and the chronic medication service that’s currently being implemented across the country. 

The GP staff regularly signpost patients to the pharmacy’s services, while the pharmacy staff are able to save the GPs time by signing up patients as temporary residents (e.g. if people are visiting the area). The pharmacy is also involved with a local initiative that ensures medicines information is sent to the pharmacy and the GP when a patient is discharged from hospital.

“We sign up lots of people to the minor ailments service who have been directed to us by their GP. They are always really pleased to learn that they can get medicines for minor ailments free of charge without having to make an appointment. We deal directly with the hospital too and sometimes receive information about a change to a patient’s medicines before the GP. It’s great to be providing such good, joined-up care,” says Vanessa.

Medicines knowledge

Working closely with the two surgeries, the pharmacy team is very busy with prescriptions, and dispensing monitored dosage system (MDS) items forms a significant part of their work. Vanessa and David follow a rigorous procedure when compiling the MDS boxes, which minimises the risk of errors at each step of the dispensing process and also allows them to answer patient queries about their medicines straight away.

“The MDS boxes are a really great idea and provide an excellent service to the community, but they can be very time-consuming,” says Vanessa. “We retain the packaging for each item inside each patient’s individual basket so if we get any queries – for example, if a different branded medicine or generic version has been dispensed – we can trace it back.” Over the years, Vanessa has got to know many of the pharmacy’s patients well, and has developed an in-depth knowledge of all the different medicines they are taking.

This information proves extremely valuable when she is advising customers about managing minor ailments at the counter – something which she finds especially rewarding. “I know which prescription medicines our patients are taking and how they interact with OTC medicines, so if a customer asks for a product I can tell them if it is suitable to take with the medicines they are on,” she explains, adding: “It’s nice to be able to get out of the dispensary and use my knowledge every now and then.”

Developing roles

Vanessa keeps her knowledge up to date by attending training events organised by the local health board and maintaining her CPD record. She manages to fit training into her working week, but regrets that community pharmacy technicians do not have protected study time. She is also a member of the Association of Pharmacy Technicians UK (APTUK) and uses the letters MAPharmT after her name.

Awareness of the role of ACTs has grown since Vanessa attained the qualification in 2011. However, she feels strongly that pharmacy technicians and ACTs are not currently being used to their full potential. “In the past, some locum pharmacists were a bit mistrustful when I told them I was an ACT, but it has become a much more widely recognised qualification,” says Vanessa.

“However, I still think that ACTs can be undervalued and that there is scope for us to widen our roles. For example, I would like to be able to assist more with the clinical services.” If time permits, Vanessa would like to train as a healthy living champion in the future, as well as deliver more pharmacy services.

Whichever way she ends up expanding her role, David is highly supportive: “Vanessa is a loving wife, excellent worker and caring mum. She is a credit to our profession and I only hope that there are many more pharmacy technicians like Vanessa about.”

I still think that ACTs can be undervalued and that there is scope for us to widen our roles

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