In Member News
By Kyle Winn, Head of Production, North East and North Cumbria Provider Collaborative - Medicines Manufacturing Centre
I’m a Pharmacy Technician within the NHS and I wanted to share my career journey to date and my views on the current Pharmacy Supervision consultation.
A little about myself and my career. I’m currently developing a brand new aseptic hub for the North East and North Cumbria as part of NHS England’s Infusions and Special Medicines Programme. I have been working within the NHS for over 18 years and I’ve held clinical, aseptic, production and quality roles. Over this time, I have witnessed a positive change in the way a pharmacy technician is perceived professionally, from both peers within pharmacy and those who are external as well.
Like many, when I was in post-GCSE education, I realised that this mainstream route of education was not for me, and I wanted to earn and learn. I applied, and was fortunate enough to be accepted onto, the student pharmacy technician course which enabled me to do fulfil my wish. I’m a firm believer in this model of learning - university straight from school just isn’t for everyone. It’s been amazing to see the image of apprenticeship models of learning improving year on year; where they were once seen as a young person’s qualification, they are now open to all.
Early on in my journey as a qualified pharmacy technician, I realised that patient facing roles were not my main interest. The desire to help patients remained, however, which is why for the last 14 years of my career, I have specialised within technical services which is also referred to as aseptics or production services. It enables me to have a big impact on patient care, through assisting in the fight against cancer and supporting the hard-working clinical teams at ward level. This is why I love what I do and the services I work in.
I feel very fortunate that I have always had managers who have believed in me and the capability of a pharmacy technician. With their support I studied for a Master of Science (MSc) in Pharmacy Technology and Quality Assurance at Manchester University, which I successfully gained in 2018. If you had asked when I left sixth form to train to be a pharmacy technician if I would ever achieve a Masters degree, I would have said “no chance”. At that time I assumed the only route to a degree was to go to university straight from school. But it is never too late to learn and gain further qualifications.
Those within technical services in the NHS will be aware of the existing challenges that aseptic facilities have with recruitment of suitable accountable pharmacists. This often means that aseptic units struggle to operate to their fullest potential. I have first-hand experience of this challenge, as during my time as Head of Production and Aseptic Services Manager for a facility which operated under both section 10 exemption and a Manufacturing Specials (MS) licence, I worked with three different accountable pharmacists. It was after the resignation of the third pharmacist that I knew something had to change within our facility to create more resilience for staff and the patients whom we were treating. I was lucky that I had a chief pharmacist who believed in my ability and my team’s; he supported my vision to take our facility through a change to enable manufacture of all products within the scope of our MS licence. This removed the need for an accountable pharmacist within our management structure and we moved to a model where the Head of Quality Assurance and Quality Control (my role at the time) and Head of Production (also a pharmacy technician) were responsible, and accountable, for the quality of the service and products. Both roles are open to both pharmacists and pharmacy technicians subject to suitable qualifications or experience.
In this situation it would have been amazing if the law had been updated so that my pharmacy technician colleagues or I could have been deemed suitable to take primary responsibility for the preparation, assembly and dispensing of medicinal products for our hospital aseptic facility within Northumbria Healthcare Foundation NHS Trust.
The Medicines and Healthcare product Regulatory Agency (MHRA) acknowledges that suitably qualified professionals (including pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, scientists etc) have the relevant skills to assume responsibility for a Specials’ Licenced facility that manufactures medicines, yet under the section 10 exemption currently legislation allows only pharmacists to supervise preparation and supply.
My hope is that the changes proposed in the Pharmacy Supervision consultation are passed and implemented so that aseptic units can achieve their fullest potential and continue the amazing work they do to ensure that patients receive the best care in either oncology day units or any other clinical setting.
As time goes on, we are beginning to see a change in confidence and recognition with regard to the pharmacy technician profession and this consultation is proof of the change.
It shines a light on all the amazing pharmacy technicians who have a wealth of experience and knowledge within aseptic units but are often overlooked for senior roles due to the current legislation. I’m keen to acknowledge the skills of a pharmacy technician and a pharmacist are very different. We both have different strengths, and both have the ability to greatly impact patient care. It is my desire that one day both the pharmacist and the pharmacy technician roles are seen as equals that complement each other, with one common goal of improving patient care.
Pharmacists have amazing clinical knowledge gained from their degree and foundation training, they do an amazing job and are often the backbone of communities. This consultation gives the NHS a real opportunity to reduce the weighty legislative burden placed on pharmacists who are required to supervise aseptic units, so that they can use their expert knowledge in patient focused roles within both primary and secondary care.
I want to be clear I do not wish for this consultation to result in pharmacy technicians replacing pharmacists within aseptic units. I wish for the roles to be seen as equals in certain specialist settings, such as aseptic units, with recognition of skills and experience rather than simply the initial qualifications of the postholder. Increasing the pool of staff who can provide supervision within aseptic units will provide greater workforce resilience for years to come.
I wanted to conclude that I have spoken about the roles of a pharmacy technician and pharmacist due to the nature of this consultation. Hopefully this consultation for change in the legislation opens further conversations in the future to widen the scope of supervision for aseptic services to healthcare scientists and science manufacturing technicians. These are both amazing groups of staff who have a big part to play in the way patient care is delivered within the NHS in the future.
I hope this helps to encourage other pharmacy technicians to respond to the consultation (Pharmacy supervision - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) before the deadline of 23:59 on 29th February 2024.