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Editor’s view: Time to take stock over skill mix

Developing the capabilities of pharmacy teams is essential to advance clinical practice but the sector – and public – need clarity over roles and responsibilities and the right educational building blocks must be put in place, says Pharmacy Magazine editor Richard Thomas.

Pharmacies have two critical tools at their disposal that they need to utilise to the full if they are to create the headspace and capacity needed to deliver an expanding clinical offer – technology and the skill mix of their teams. We explore the efficiencies provided by new technology, particularly automation, in our April print edition, out now. However, the situation regarding skill mix is more nuanced.

Let’s be clear from the outset. Pharmacy technicians (no abbreviations here) perform a vital role. Closely supporting pharmacists, they are an essential, irreplaceable element of any modern pharmacy operation. So why is the prospect of pharmacy technicians supplying medicines under PGDs causing so much unease among pharmacists and even pharmacy technicians themselves? 

I don’t think for a moment that it’s professional rivalry. However, alarm bells start to clang very loudly when the DHSC suggests that the regulatory changes announced last month will potentially enable pharmacy technicians to provide Pharmacy First consultations. Role replacement anyone?

Time for a dose of hard reality. The GPhC may have updated the education and training standards for pharmacy technicians in 2017 but most who work in community are still ‘grandparented’ and there is a huge variation in quality, competence and educational attainment. The regulator’s promised review of the initial education and training standards for pharmacy technicians cannot come quickly enough. However, this should be widened to encompass those who are currently registered as well.

Pharmacy technicians may feel “well prepared” for an expanded role in practice – which is encouraging – yet the existing training and governance frameworks simply do not equip them to take on clinical roles in community pharmacy alongside their technical activities. And why would pharmacy technicians want this extra responsibility anyway when many are barely earning above the National Living Wage?

Developing the capabilities of pharmacy teams is obviously desirable, even necessary, but must be built on the right foundations ensuring that pharmacy technicians have the required experience and qualifications. There is a real risk of confusing the public and undermining patient safety unless the professional responsibilities of both pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are clearly defined. The Government and both professions need to tread carefully.

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