Slow release of technician report not helpful

By drip-feeding the findings of its report on pharmacy technicians, the PDA is not helping the debate over roles and responsibilities in the pharmacy team, argues Ross Ferguson

Ross Ferguson

There is no doubt we need a discussion about the pharmacy team and the roles and responsibilities within it, so the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) report is probably to be welcomed. I say probably, because we haven’t actually seen the report, only what the PDA has chosen to release through its website in a well-controlled manner. Namely:

  • Pharmacy technicians don’t want to be responsible for supervising pharmacies
  • The PDA has raised concerns that the public may be potentially “confused or misled” about the capabilities of pharmacy technicians.

Unsurprisingly, all this has rankled what I assume is an already tense relationship with our pharmacy technician colleagues and the Association of Pharmacy Technicians (UK) in particular.

Now, as far as I’m concerned, the PDA is a champion of the profession and I’m usually a fan, but here the drip, drip, drip of specifically chosen messages from its own report could be viewed as manipulating that discussion. As a casual observer, it looks to me like publication bias.

Pointed questions

Taking a closer look at some of the questions included in the survey, respondents were asked:

  • Assuming all conditions (pay, training, career prospects and working conditions) remained the same, would you accept criminal, civil and regulatory responsibility for supervising the sale and supply of POM, P or GSL medicines to patients, in the absence of a pharmacist on the premises?
  • Are you happy to supervise the actions of other pharmacy staff in these circumstances?

Unsurprisingly, the results were as follows:

  • 86 per cent of pharmacy technicians said they wouldn’t supervise POM sales in the absence of a pharmacist
  • 80 per cent wouldn’t supervise P or GSL sales if a pharmacist wasn’t there
  • 87 per cent wouldn’t supervise other staff in the absence of a pharmacist.

Perhaps the questions could/should have been asked differently – and let’s not forget that this sample of 134 respondents represents around 0.6 per cent of registered pharmacy technicians.

Patient safety

The PDA is concerned that changes to supervision may affect patient safety. “There are some very serious decisions currently being considered by the [Government’s] rebalancing board in relation to the pharmacy skill mix and supervision in the community pharmacy sector,” says PDA director, Paul Day.

“These require a real understanding of the capabilities of pharmacy technicians and a ... robust mechanism for soliciting the views of grassroots pharmacists and pharmacy technicians when developing proposals that affect their futures.”

Any debate has to be open, honest and respectful. Our pharmacy technician colleagues are an essential element in the evolution of community pharmacy and we must not allow our personal concerns and insecurities to hinder their professional development.

The PDA needs to release this report so we can read it in its entirety to properly inform the debate, instead of selected snippets that only serve to foment friction.

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