What's in a name ?

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What's in a name ?

It’s been three years since pharmacy technicians had to register as healthcare professionals, but countless questions over roles, responsibilities and accountability, among others, still stifle pharmacy practice

So, you are a pharmacy technician and paying £108 a year to the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) for the privilege. Given that registration only became mandatory in July 2011, you probably used the ‘grandparent’ route to join. You are likely to be female – 90 per cent of your colleagues on the Technicians’ Register are, and half of them also work in community pharmacies.

It is three years down the line since registration became mandatory. How much difference has being a registered health professional made to your working day? Do you feel you have a good understanding of what being on the Register entails? How much contact do you have with the Association of Pharmacy Technicians UK (APTUK), your professional body? Is your pharmacist delegating more responsibility to you?

So many questions... Although you may feel that your role has not altered much recently, that could be about to change, because the pharmacy organisations might finally be getting to grips with having a new professional group within the pharmacy team. The Department of Health Rebalancing Board, a top level body which is reviewing pharmacy legislation and regulation “to ensure it allows innovation and development of pharmacy practice”, is looking at how pharmacy technicians fit into community pharmacy practice. Its remit also covers re-interpreting the supervisory role that the law requires pharmacists to exercise over the supply of medicines from a pharmacy.

Tess Fenn, APTUK chair, says the Rebalancing Board is looking at roles, accountability and delegation. “There will be some interesting outcomes in the near future,” she says. “The APTUK position is very clear. Tasks need to be delegated to competent and trained professionals. We need to determine what roles in law are absolutely reserved for pharmacists and what can be delegated.” Are you as a pharmacy technician ready for these changes? Do you want more responsibility and the accountability that goes with it if things go wrong?

Pharmacy technicians can certainly be held legally and professionally accountable for their activities. It may come as a surprise to some that in law and professional regulation, there is no distinction between how technicians and pharmacists are viewed. Both, to put it crudely, are in the same boat. The Pharmacy order 2010 covers the practice of pharmacists and technicians in the same clause:

“...a person practises as a pharmacist or a pharmacy technician if, whilst acting in the capacity of or purporting to be a pharmacist or pharmacy technician, that person undertakes any work or gives any advice in relation to the preparation, assembly, dispensing, sale, supply or use of medicines, the science of medicines, the practice of pharmacy or the provision of healthcare.”

The GPhC, as the regulatory body, expects people on both of its Registers to abide by the same seven principles set out in its Standards of Conduct, Ethics and Performance. As the introductory statement advises, it is important that you meet the standards and that you are able to practise safely and effectively: “Your conduct will be judged against the standards and failure to comply could put your registration at risk.” Tess Fenn has no problem with this approach. “We are all part of the pharmacy team, we all have the capacity to do public harm, so why should pharmacists and technicians be treated differently?” she says.

What differentiates pharmacists from technicians, and technicians from dispensing assistants is their respective levels of knowledge. “The level of intervention they can make is different,” argues Tess. But she admits that technicians are “still on a journey as regards to getting them to understand the consequences of registration and being professionally responsible”. Reaching technicians in the community sphere to get the message across can be difficult, she says, but the issue is high on APTUK’s agenda.

Confidence that technicians understand professional responsibility is important because until it is established, pharmacists will remain reluctant to delegate tasks. An investigation last year into supervision for Pharmacy Research UK indicated that community pharmacists still felt that their presence was critical to safe pharmacy operation. Concerns about the competencies of their staff, and their ability to recognise their own limitations, were voiced by the pharmacists who were surveyed. However, pharmacists and technicians both agreed that as pharmacy professionals, technicians should be more accountable for the tasks they perform.

So, being professional is more than just doing your CPD. It is also about undertaking tasks only if you are competent to do so, recognising your limitations and taking responsibility for work that you are asked to do. But a word of caution: although proposals for change may be on the way, there is more than pharmacists’ reluctance to delegate preventing pharmacy technicians taking on a wider role.

As Royal Pharmaceutical Society president Ash Soni puts it: “What is holding pharmacy technicians back is a lack of service development within the pharmacy contract. Where service innovation is taking place, businesses are filling the workforce gap with technicians.”

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