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Are you brave or stupid?

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Ross Ferguson
Ross Ferguson


ARE you brave or stupid? That was the moment I realised pharmacy technicians knew things. I had been qualified for less than a year and was working in a lovely village in Surrey, two minutes away from an international darts venue and the home of Sooty…those are two distinct locations.

My technician, Natalie, had provided her subtle opinion about my intention to contact a GP about an innocuous interaction that the PMR had flagged up. She made it clear that perhaps I should reconsider my decision. I did.

I had of course worked with technicians before, during my pre-registration year, but that wasn’t so positive, as it was clear that Fiona was keen to flex her experience muscles to embarrass me at any opportunity, which she felt was my rites of passage as “The Pre-reg”. That and treating me like a slave.

It wasn’t much fun, and as a result I’m ashamed to say, that at the time I enjoyed the comment an area manager made after discussing roles and responsibilities with her: “It’s all a matter of degrees, and you don’t have one.” Harsh.

Despite the fact that the 6 months I spent there could have been more pleasant, it was obvious Fiona was incredibly capable – capable of anything, but perhaps she was frustrated by the limited career opportunities in community pharmacy and the constant stream of pre-regs.

In another large pharmacy I managed, I had two wonderful technicians. They were knowledgable, a great support, very reliable and just what I needed in an incredibly busy pharmacy. I often wonder if I would have spotted the forged prescription that was handed in if it hadn’t been pointed out to me by Joan. I won’t forget that day in a hurry.

As I went to talk to the forger I was sure he could see my heart beating through my chest. “I just need to check something with the doctor, are you OK to come back later [when the police will be waiting for you]?”

While at that time the roles the technicians I worked with were limited, they were important for the smooth running of the pharmacy, but it was clear to me that they had so much more potential.

However, while roles for pharmacy technicians have moved on significantly, primarily in secondary care, I think that in community pharmacy we need to fully embrace the profession like our hospital-based colleagues.

We need to help develop roles for technicians in community pharmacy, not just dispensing and checking roles, but many others too if we want to retain them. That will enable us to develop our roles.

From what I’ve seen and heard recently, there’s no shortage of ambition and the things pharmacy technicians are doing in hospital pharmacy are far more interesting and professionally challenging than what pharmacists do for most of the time in community. It certainly opened my eyes.

If you’ve read any of the coverage of the Association of Pharmacy Technicians UK (APTUK) conference you’ll get a feeling of a vibrant, intelligent, visionary bunch of people challenging the norm, agitating for change and the development of their profession. In fact, they sound more together and focussed than pharmacy.

So what does this mean? Well, I think pharmacists need to step up their game, concentrate on roles that only they can do and employ technicians (not just dispensers). We need to work together to meet the challenges faced by pharmacy, the NHS and patients.

Obviously community pharmacy is facing significant threats at the moment, but let’s meet those threats be harnessing the experience and capability of pharmacy technicians, because one thing’s for sure: pharmacy technicians won’t be hanging around.

Follow Ross @rosshferguson

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