Expanding pharmacy technicians’ scope of practice, including by allowing them to use patient group directions (PGDs), is expected to increase the attractiveness of a career in community pharmacy, the president of the Association of Pharmacy Technicians UK (APTUK) has told The Pharmacist.

Claire Steele said that opportunities in general practice had enabled pharmacy technicians to expand their clinical skills, and that that the association welcomed proposals to do the same within community pharmacy.

Her comments came in response to concerns raised by the Community Pharmacy Workforce Development Group (CPWDG) about the declining numbers of full time equivalent (FTE) pharmacy technicians working in the community sector and the recruitment of pharmacy technicians under the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS).

The cross-sector group said that legislative changes allowing pharmacy technicians to do more would incentivise community pharmacy employers to invest in training their workforce.

The comments come as the government consults on whether registered pharmacy technicians should be allowed to supply medicines under a PDG.

They also follow a cross-sector group’s recommendation that responsible pharmacists should be allowed to delegate aspects of the preparation, assembly, sale and supply of medicines to appropriate members of the pharmacy team in defined circumstances.

In a report published last month, the CPWDG, comprised of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp), the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) and the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), highlighted a 20% decrease in the number of FTE pharmacy technicians between 2017 and 2022, as reported in NHS England (NHSE)’s Community Pharmacy Workforce Survey.

And the reported number of FTE pharmacy technicians decreased by around 17% – from 6,327 to 5,252 – between the 2021 and 2022 surveys. This represents a decrease in the number of FTE pharmacy technicians per pharmacy from 0.56 in 2017 and 2021 to 0.47 in 2022, the CPWDG suggested in its report reflecting on the workforce survey figures.

And the number of pharmacy technician vacancies in community pharmacy had increased by 375% between 2017 and 2022, the CPWDG report added.

While there are efforts to increase the size of the pharmacy technician workforce, such as the pre-registration trainee pharmacy technicians (PTPT) programme, the group said that ‘a lack of clarity over current and future roles of pharmacy technicians’ and ‘a lack of distinction between pharmacy technician and support staff roles’ had acted as a barrier to engagement with expansion programmes.

‘This should be considered in the context of constrained budgets and the risk that colleagues who undertake training will leave community settings to join a sector where they are able to use enhanced skills, such as primary care,’ the report added.

In a statement accompanying the publication of the report, the group noted that in June 2023, there were 1,617 FTE pharmacy technicians working in ARRS funded Primary Care Network (PCN) roles, according to statistics published by NHS Digital.

‘The growing pressure experienced in the sector is evident. Although, ARRS recruitment is not the sole contributor of the workforce crisis, it is fanning the flames of an already precarious situation,’ the group commented.

In the report, the group called for opportunities to make better use of skills mix within community pharmacy teams ‘to go much further’ than the recent changes to VAT rules and service specifications enabling technicians to deliver elements of the smoking cessation and hypertension case finding services.

The CPWDG said that it would like to see legislation amended ‘to enable aspects of the preparation, assembly, sale and supply of medicines to be delegated to the most appropriate member of the pharmacy team’.

And it added that pharmacy technicians should be added to the list of professionals who can work under a PGD ‘without delay’.

‘Together, these changes create a distinct, impactful, and professionally rewarding role for pharmacy technicians. Employers will then be incentivised to train people into these roles, and those individuals will be able to use their skills and thrive,’ the group said.

Responding to the report, APTUK president Ms Steele told The Pharmacist that pharmacy technicians are ‘in demand’ and ‘making a positive impact on patient care across all sectors of practice’.

She said opportunities such as ARRS had enabled pharmacy technicians to expand their scope of practice, and she expected ‘future legislative enablers’, such as allowing pharmacy technicians to work under PGDs, ‘to increase the attractiveness of a career as a pharmacy technician, particularly in community pharmacy’.

Ms Steele added that the association supported aspirations in the NHS Long Term Workforce plan to ‘grow the pharmacy technician workforce’ and that it also welcomed ‘all proposals for the career development and advancement of pharmacy technicians in all current and emerging sectors of practice’.

A consultation into government proposals to introduce legislation that would allow registered pharmacy technicians to supply medicines under a PGD is ongoing and will close on 29 September

When the consultation was launched last month, the government said that this change could deliver greater efficiency and cost-effectiveness for pharmacy teams by allowing them to make a better use of skills mix.

The Primary Care Pharmacy Association (PCPA) has also today voiced its support for the proposals, saying that allowing pharmacy technicians to supply medicines under a PGD would improve patient access to care and alleviate GP workload.