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Pharmacy technician role needs clarification

Education and training standards for pharmacy technicians need revising and their role, especially in the community, needs clarification, according to Research in Social and Administrative Pharmacy.

Researchers interviewed 17 further education colleges, six distance education providers, 16 community pharmacies and 15 hospital pharmacies during 2013-14, covering education delivery, workbased learning and assessment, and quality assurance. The researchers also sent a questionnaire to 1,457 recently registered pharmacy technicians. Of these 632 provided usable responses.

Most pharmacy technicians were female (90.7 per cent in community pharmacy and 77.4 per cent in hospital). The average age was 36.9 and 29.9 years respectively. Typically, technicians trained in the community (75.9 per cent). For their knowledge qualification, 92.9 per cent of community trainees used a distance provider, while 78.0 per cent of hospital trainees attended a further education college. For the competence qualification, 92.8 per cent of community trainees used a distance provider, while 56.5 and 29.0 per cent of hospital trainees used a NHS trust and further education college respectively.

Certain topics, such as pharmaceutical chemistry and extemporaneous preparation, were considered redundant or over-taught but education about other topics (e.g. responsibility, accountability and professionalism) seemed lacking. Hospital interviewees felt that education and training lacked clinical detail. By way of comparison, many community interviewees felt that the requirements were more advanced than necessary.

In general, participants felt that the education and training standards were out-of-date. Some interviewees suggested having core and optional units, with the latter based on sector needs. In hospitals, for example, pharmacy technicians increasingly perform wardbased activities, such as medicines management and reconciliation.

Pharmacy technicians’ roles in the community were regarded as not clearly defined or sufficiently different from other support staff, such as dispensing assistants. Significantly more pharmacy technicians working in hospital agreed that their role was clearly defined (84.0 per cent) than in the community (73.9 per cent). Accuracy checking, which requires an additional qualification, seems to be “the only clearly differentiated role in [the] community”. The current lack of clarity makes defining and determining education and training standards difficult.

A previous study found that “community pharmacists were reluctant to delegate”, partly due to a lack of clarity on pharmacy technicians’ training, competence and ultimate accountability.

The authors of the current study note that skill mix configuration seems to be “more advanced in hospital”. Community pharmacy, they say, could “adopt these ways of working to support a model that enables pharmacists to take on extended, clinical roles”.

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