In my last article, I wrote about the glimpses of spring and how that energises us. It certainly feels like we are beginning to emerge from one of the toughest winters in living memory, and the feelings and thoughts associated with that have made me compare and reflect on the pharmacy technician profession’s journey.
The professional register has been open for 10 years in July, which is a significant milestone. The advances in the profession have been amazing and I can still remember the sense of history and professional pride I felt when I submitted my application to join, what was at the time, the voluntary register.
I have not made a secret of how proud I am to be a pharmacy technician and represent the profession. It’s truly an honour and privilege, but it can also be quite frustrating. There is much to do with regards to establishing the profession and allowing it to be recognised as a registered healthcare profession in its own right. We do not have another 10 years to wait for the changes we need to ensure patients receive the best pharmaceutical care and services.
Around 23,000 pharmacy technicians are on the register. That is a significant workforce and there is no doubt that the profession needs to grow further. Roles have expanded and NHS services and patients, quite rightly, are looking to pharmacy for support. Pharmacy technicians are a solution to a healthcare workforce crisis.
So, how do we get there? The strategy to modernise the initial education and training standards (IETS) in 2017, enabling, at the point of registration, pharmacy technicians’ knowledge and skills to be fully realised, has not delivered as we hoped. Accuracy checking and medicines optimisation are all included in the new standards. There is confusion within the profession and with employers about what a ‘Day 1 pharmacy technician’ with the new IETS can do. There are myths and biases over what we as a profession can do, and decision making is not always as informed as it could be.
I feel it is pharmacy that is holding pharmacy back. I like to believe that this is not intentional, but it must be remedied. As a professional leadership body, we are committed to supporting this agenda and have made significant changes to enable this to happen – look at what has been achieved in the last year as a voluntary organisation – but we do need members to ensure sustainability. APTUK has just supported National Careers Week and the interest it has generated is amazing and needs to be capitalised on. I therefore urge you to make sure you play your part and encourage the next generation of pharmacy technicians. Does your organisation train pre-registration pharmacy technicians? If not, can you, with the right education and support, offer to help train and supervise them?
As well as growth in the profession, we must revisit any legislation changes around supervision and ensure that the profession is on the list of healthcare professionals able to supply and administer medicinal products under a patient group direction. Pharmacy will suffer if we do not do these things. Other healthcare providers and new roles will evolve, which could challenge pharmacy business models.
There are things we could look at within the pharmacy professions and with employers. We do not need legislation changes for everything; be brave, have open discussions and realise the potential for services and patients in having another registered professional on site. Do we really make the most of that for our services and patients’ benefit? Let’s keep talking at every level.
The last year has provided the evidence of what another registered healthcare profession can do in pharmacy services and more widely. I hope that as we emerge further into spring, we can learn and celebrate the innovation that the profession can do when enabled.
The pharmacy technician profession cannot stay in the winter wilderness and we won’t. So, as ever, be proud and ask those questions: why can’t I do that? Do I have the skills? Is this in the patient’s best interest? These are just some of the ways to approach this and keep discussions going.
The desire to get on with it, so to speak, is stronger than ever, and conversations are absolutely happening. This is our profession’s moment to step up and we will.