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Technicians step up to the plate


07 Oct 2011

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), the regulator for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, has provided data on the number of pharmacy technicians as at June 30, 2011, with 14,289 on its register. A further 5,565 applications had been received and were waiting to be processed. Of these, 1,500 were received in May, and a staggering 4,000 (around 20 per cent of pharmacy technicians) waited until June. A further 666 applications were awaiting evaluation or further information. From these figures we know that the final number on the register is likely to be around 20,500, significantly above early estimates.

So what about the quality of applications? More than 30 per cent of applications received by the GPhC have key information or documentation missing or incorrect. This has significantly impacted on the Council’s ability to process applications. It has refused around 50 applications since September 27, 2010 on the grounds of not meeting the criteria for registration. Statutory registration for pharmacy technicians is a requirement in England, Scotland and Wales, but not Northern Ireland.

The APTUK commitments
The Association of Pharmacy Technicians (UK) is the professional leadership body for pharmacy technicians and has membership across the whole of the UK. Membership is currently around 800 pharmacy technicians from all sectors. The five key commitments of the Association are:

  • Respond to the needs of pharmacy technicians;
  • Provide CPD support and professional development;
  • Actively pursue professional networking and sharing of knowledge;
  • Promote pharmacy technicians through active response to healthcare policy;
  • Support advanced roles for pharmacy technicians.

The breakdown of pharmacy technician numbers by sector is still something of a mystery, as this information is not routinely collected by APTUK or GPhC. However, this would be really useful information to know since it would help us to provide appropriate advice and support to our members. I suspect that it would also be useful to GPhC as it starts to analyse trends on regulatory matters.

Training and accreditation schemes for post registration pharmacy technicians are not organised on a national basis and there are many local or regional schemes which are not harmonised. Therefore, there are no details available on how many pharmacy technicians have, for example, been accredited for final checking of prescriptions.

APTUK has been working alongside other stakeholders on the Modernising Pharmacy Careers programme. Our view is that some standardisation of post registration qualifications would be a big step forward and would go a long way towards delivering consistency and transferability of competence among pharmacy technicians.

So, now the important date for pharmacy technicians has passed, it is perhaps time to reflect on statutory registration and think about its impact. Some pharmacy technicians view registration as just another sum of money that has to be paid out each year. And to be fair many other healthcare professionals think the same thing! However, I believe that it is a privilege to be registered, since it brings professional standing and recognition to all technicians. It also brings protection of the title ‘pharmacy technician’ in law. Widespread acceptance of the principle for, and benefits of, registration will require significant cultural change and this will take quite a few years to achieve. It is interesting that there are a significant number of pharmacy technicians who do not regard themselves as professionals.

The biggest change for technicians
Perhaps the biggest change for pharmacy technicians will be the need for them to recognise that they are now formally responsible for the actions they take and will be held accountable for any errors or omissions they make. This will also impact on pharmacists who have, until now, been held accountable for all their support staff. As with all registered healthcare practitioners, pharmacy technicians will be expected to work within the GPhC standards for conduct, ethics and performance. Those whose practice falls below the accepted standard could find themselves facing fitness to practise procedures.

Registration and regulation is all about protecting patients and the public, who can now have confidence that pharmacy technicians are all capable of working to minimum and safe standards. Now that the transitional, or ‘grandparenting’, period is over, only those pharmacy technicians who meet the contemporary standard for joining the register will be allowed to do so – this can be found at: www.pharmacyregulation.org/regulatingpharmacy/registration/registeringas…

Pharmacy technicians who have not registered before July 1 and do not hold one of the qualifications listed in the current standards can no longer apply to join the register. To do so, they will now need to complete a relevant qualification and have appropriate work experience. They also cannot call themselves a pharmacy technician until they are on the register.

Registered pharmacy technicians are required to undertake continuing professional development (CPD) to remain on the register and must complete a minimum of nine pieces of CPD each year. The GPhC calls CPD records for inspection on a rolling basis and pharmacy technicians should expect to have their records called at least once every five years. They are also required to make an annual declaration at registration renewal, which includes stating that they will undertake CPD and have indemnity insurance in place.

The GPhC does not provide support to undertake CPD but does host ‘Plan and Record’, the recognised CPD recording system. Paper CPD recording systems are accepted by the GPhC as long as they are in the recognised format. Support for CPD for pharmacy technicians is available from the APTUK, and indeed we believe that this is one of our key roles. You can find out more about APTUK at www.aptuk.org

The insurance question
All pharmacy technicians are required to have indemnity insurance arrangements in place as a condition of registration. Many employees, including those working within the NHS, are covered by their employer’s ‘vicarious liability’, but this will only cover ‘authorised activities’. All pharmacy technicians should investigate indemnity insurance and take advice if they are not clear about what is required. APTUK is not expert in indemnity insurance and will only signpost pharmacy technicians to recognised sources of support and indemnity insurance providers.

APTUK has developed an indemnity insurance package in partnership with the National Pharmacy Association but we do not recommend a preferred provider. We believe that this is an individual choice and the best solution will depend on many individual factors which we are not best placed to assess. Other providers include the Pharmacy Insurance Agency (PIA), and membership of UNISON also brings automatic indemnity insurance.

Looking at the bigger picture, what is the future for pharmacy technicians and how will their role change? We have already seen big changes in who does what in both hospital and community pharmacy – final accuracy checking of prescriptions is a classic example of this change. Many see this as the thin end of the wedge, allowing pharmacy technicians to take over from pharmacists. However, in my view, pushing the boundaries is just an evolutionary step that allows pharmacy technicians to utilise their skills and experience. It also empowers pharmacists to undertake roles that best utilise their extensive training and experience of clinical pharmacy.

So how far can the boundaries be stretched? The answer is all around competence, and there are many new areas where pharmacy technicians have already demonstrated that they can perform successfully with appropriate training and experience. Managing hospital operational pharmacy services is increasingly a role undertaken by pharmacy technicians, and why not? Management and leadership are very different skill sets to clinical pharmacy and are not the preserve of any particular group of healthcare professionals.

Pushing the boundaries of skill mix can bring risk – the key to success is to have systems and processes in place to manage that risk effectively. Of course, managing clinical pharmacy services is the preserve of pharmacists and this is an area where they can utilise their knowledge, skills, training and experience to best effect. The concept of extended/advanced roles for pharmacy technicians will be a key factor in the future pharmacy service model. Developments over the last ten years have shown that it can be highly successful if the risks are managed appropriately.

I will leave you with statement that I heard from a pharmacist recently which struck me as being an excellent analogy: “Pharmacy technicians work operationally and support pharmacists in their clinical work’, while, ‘pharmacists work clinically and support pharmacy technicians in their operational work’. I believe that this describes a great partnership working model.

Steve Acres
President of the Association of Pharmacy Technicians (UK)
and a practising pharmacy technician


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