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Fear about pharmacy technicians’ roles holding us back, says APTUK president

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Fear about pharmacy technicians’ roles holding us back, says APTUK president

By Neil Trainis

Pharmacy technicians face protectionism within pharmacy and “a little bit of fear” about their roles despite years of progress, the president of the Association of Pharmacy Technicians UK Claire Steele has said.

In an exclusive interview this month with Independent Community Pharmacist, Ms Steele, who has been a pharmacy technician for 24 years and spent most of her career in hospital pharmacy, said her profession still faced scepticism in some quarters, and went as far as to say there is "always going to be a pocket who will see pharmacy technicians as a threat". 

In November 2020, the Pharmacists’ Defence Association, which published a constructively critical report on the roles and capabilities of pharmacy technicians in the UK three years ago, accused the APTUK of attempting a “landgrab” on primary care pharmacists’ roles through its draft national competency framework for general practice pharmacy technicians.

“I think you could say [protectionism exists] about most healthcare professionals and to be fair, pharmacy technicians are no different when you talk about what our role was 20 years ago to what it is now,” Ms Steele said.

“You could say that about every profession. Do I still see it? Unfortunately, yes. Not so much professionally. Given my role, I’m very fortunate that I work in a truly integrated pharmacy service with very supportive colleagues.

“The marker for me, and I challenge organisations a lot on this, is more than ever before, we’re being asked to be around tables, involved in discussions but actually, it’s never really been equal representation and that’s something I challenge quite a lot because it becomes tokenistic.

“I still think there’s a little bit of fear there about what pharmacy technicians do. To my mind, we’re a team with different knowledge, different skills, and we need to use the best of each profession to really start to deliver what we want to deliver. I feel like that attitude is really holding us back.”

When asked if she felt pharmacy had moved past all the debates about whether pharmacy technicians should be allowed to oversee the supply of medicines to patients in the absence of a pharmacist and whether their education and training needs to be, as the PDA at one point suggested, “substantially revised,” she said: “There’s always going to be a pocket who will see pharmacy technicians as a threat. The APTUK didn’t formally respond to [the PDA] report because it wasn’t something that we felt we did formally want to respond to. From my perspective, there has been a shift though in those traditional views of a pharmacy technician in that role.”

Ms Steele also told ICP the APTUK may consider giving pharmacy support staff associate membership since many of them get in touch with the organisation with questions about their roles.

“That’s a tricky one for us because we’re the professional leadership body for pharmacy technicians, not pharmacy support staff, so that’s quite interesting,” she said.

“We can give advice as best we can but actually, pharmacy support staff don’t form part of our membership and it’s whether we might look at that in the future, perhaps associate membership.

“It’s something we’re kind of thinking about. It will be interesting to see how the landscape changes in the next few years. I think the skill mix and the role is going to change quite significantly because I think it needs to.

“If pharmacy is going to be fit for the future, we’re going to have to see some significant changes because are there enough pharmacists and pharmacy technicians at the minute? I don’t think so.”

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