An Aussie Pharmacist in England – The role of the Pharmacy Technician

Part 2) The Role of the Pharmacy Technician

For those who haven’t read my first post, G’day! My name is Eleanor and I’m an Aussie pharmacist living and working in the UK. I’m currently working as a locum pharmacy dispensing assistant in an NHS hospital in England, and find it very interesting comparing the practice of hospital pharmacy between this country and Australia. In my first post, I shared some observations about common medications and treatment strategies used in each country, which overall I have found to be fairly similar. However one aspect of pharmacy practice I immediately found to be quite different is the role of the pharmacy technician. In this post I’d like to explore this particular observation in more detail.

To begin with, I was surprised to learn of the very different education and training requirements for pharmacy technicians in the UK compared with Australia. Since 2011, all pharmacy technicians working in England, Scotland and Wales must register with the General Pharmaceutical Council. In order to register, a formal approved qualification must be undertaken, as well as at least two years’ work experience. I’m currently working with a first-year and a second-year trainee pharmacy technician, and have been very impressed with the depth and detail of their study. In Australia, pharmacy technicians do not register with the national regulation agency, with only pharmacists and students mandated to register. Nor is there any national formal qualification required. There are training courses available, but these are voluntary and may vary between states.

With this difference in education and training, it seemed logical that I observed a big difference in the roles and responsibilities of UK hospital pharmacy technicians compared with Australia. While I understand that roles vary between different hospitals, the practice in my current workplace is for pharmacy technicians to:

  • Check inpatient and pharmacist-screened discharge prescriptions
  • Counsel patients
  • Gain patient consent and undertake medication histories on the wards
  • Co-ordinate and organise the patient discharge process

In the Australian hospitals in which I’ve worked, pharmacy technicians have a role very similar to that of UK dispensing assistants or assistant technical officers (ATOs). This mainly involves dispensing prescriptions, managing ward stock and ordering and putting away stock. While some hospitals are beginning to expand the role of pharmacy technicians to include limited ward work, this is not yet common, and all work is supervised by a pharmacist. In a promising step, however, the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia is currently undertaking a project to examine, re-design and expand the scope of practice of hospital technicians.

Personally, I am really excited that Australia is taking this step. I believe the model of practice I’ve seen in this English hospital is of huge value to patients and the department. The different but related roles of the pharmacist and technician seem to enhance the level of patient care that can be given. In my previous clinical pharmacist roles in Australia, I was often stretched between many different tasks and unable to complete all the work I felt was important. Mornings would typically see me miss much of the ward round to furiously type a discharge medication list, run back to dispensary for an urgent discharge item or help a nurse locate a patient’s morning medication. Working as a team, a pharmacy technician could be managing discharges and creating medication lists while the pharmacist attends ward round and assists with clinical decisions.

From my limited observations so far, I have been very impressed with the team model of hospital pharmacy that can be achieved when ATOs and, in particular, pharmacy technicians are fully utilised to support the work of pharmacists. When run properly, this team model can increase the level of direct patient care provided, and I believe Australian hospital pharmacy practice could learn a lot from it.


What now?

Read more in this series of blogs - An Aussie Pharmacist in the UK

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