Margaret Vass has been a pharmacy technician for 35 years and is the leader of the NHS Fife Pharmacy Technician Team working across the Fife Health and Social Care Partnership from Lynebank Hospital in Dunfermline. She has been telling Pharmacy in Practice that the role and responsibility of pharmacy technicians will continue to grow so long as there are the people to do the job.
“We work in all of the areas of Fife where there are medicines used outside acute hospital settings. So, that includes community hospitals, dental departments, physio, community nursing, district nursing, palliative care and GP practices. We work with the immunisation team and we manage all the medical gases. Some of the team are specialists and I think, overall, there is more scope for technicians to advance in a team like ours rather than in community pharmacy. We often get applicants for posts from community pharmacy technicians who want to come across and widen the scope of their knowledge, experience and practice.
“The area where most advances are going to happen is in the GP practices, particularly now with the new Scottish GP contract moving a lot of the work that used to be done by the doctors to pharmacy. So, as pharmacists take on a much higher level, patient-facing and prescribing clinical roles, pharmacy technicians in GP practices will be doing a lot of the work that was traditionally done by pharmacists. Technicians will need to have a higher level of clinical competence, screening patient records and looking at their drug histories and undertaking patient counselling.
“In hospitals, we are increasingly working directly with patients which was never a traditional role for a pharmacy technician. As we move towards more use of robotics, we’re going to have to develop specialists who can manage robotic systems. And, as well as developing clinical skills, many of us will increasingly need to be equipped to be managers and leaders.
“I think we are at a crucial time because of the changes to the training and education for pharmacy technicians. There’s an opportunity just now to ensure that the basic education for pharmacy technicians is right and then that we put in place a framework for every technician to work within to ensure they get the additional qualifications and skills, right up to postgraduate level, that they will need to take on these advanced roles.
“Pharmacy technicians may become prescribers in very specialist areas in the same way as physiotherapists have. Before then, though, I think we will see pharmacy technicians using Patient Group Directions to supply and administer medicines.
“The challenge, as we seek to devolve more to pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, is capacity. We can see that already with health boards looking for more pharmacists and more pharmacy technicians to meet the demands of the new GP contract. And we know right now that they are absolutely not out there. So, we are already starting to look Scotland-wide and asking how we make sure both that we have enough technicians undertaking their basic training and how we get more technicians into the NHS sector without depleting community pharmacy.
“We need to be innovative in how we train pharmacy technicians, including placements across the whole of pharmacy, with time in community pharmacy, hospital and GP practices, so that the pharmacy technicians come out of training able to work in any of those sectors once they are qualified. We have to plan for the future now, because we are really struggling to have the manpower to meet the demands right now, never mind any new expectations of us in the future.”
Margaret Vass is leading a session on preparing the pharmacy technician workforce for Achieving Excellence in Pharmaceutical Care at the Pharmacy Management National Forum for Scotland in Dunblane on 30 August.