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The Pharmaceutical Journal
Vol 268 No 7195 p568-572
27 April 2002

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Letters to the Editor

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Checking technicians

Where is the beef?

Accredited technicians are the way forward

Where is the beef?

From Mr E. S. S. Yuen, MRPharmS

I read with interest the letter by Andy Murdock (PJ, 6 April, p468) and I fully understand his support for accredited checking technicians. I can see the commercial benefits for large retail multiples, especially the one that the author represents, in which pharmacists' salaries represent a large proportion of their "controllable costs".

It is also well known that Mr Murdock's company has a "manpower shortage"; there is a steady haemorrhage of experienced as well as newly qualified pharmacists. If it is impossible for Mr Murdock to retain pharmacists, is the answer to his problem one of offering the public a cheaper service?

Despite Mr Murdock's faith in his lesser-trained staff (and no offence is intended to his able dispensers), I have yet to see any benefits for the profession of pharmacy. How is the five-year trained graduate service we offer to the public going to be improved by accredited checking technicians at a reduced cost? Where is the beef, Mr Murdock?

With today's fierce commercial pressures on the big retail multiples, how would Mr Murdock like his company to be approved to accredit the technicians internally, their examination papers marked by the clerks in his training department, many of whom have only recently left school?

Sau Sheung Yuen
Walsall, West Midlands


ANDY MURDOCK, director of pharmacy and superintendent pharmacist, Lloydspharmacy, replies:

I think Mr Yuen has completely missed the point. There has to be a tacit acceptance and understanding within the profession that pharmacists, with the extended role, cannot do everything. The profession as a whole and individual practitioners within it, cannot practise ostrich management. A head-in-the-sand-it-will-go-away attitude is untenable. If engagement with new roles comes to fruition — and it will — new ways of delivering the existing service have to be formulated. Of course, I expect "push back" on this idea as change to some can be uncomfortable, but constructive debate is essential.

Mr Yuen seems hell-bent on majoring on cost. Important though it is, at no point in discussions has any mention been made of reducing pharmacist numbers as is intimated. Yes, there is a workforce shortage — fact. What is more, I am unsure when the situation will be rectified as we are not talking about a particular sector of pharmacy with a recruitment/retention issue: it is all sectors. The use of ACTs accompanied by a different way of working will help address the gap. My imperative is to be able to deliver a future service, with extended roles, and that requires change. I do not accept Mr Yuen's cynicism regarding the benefits to the profession. If ACTs allow pharmacists time to engage on an even greater basis with the public in other aspects of pharmaceutical care then that will give greater professional satisfaction. I accept that current remuneration makes funding streams for these extended services haphazard, but it will change. The question is, will Mr Yuen?

Accredited technicians are the way forward

From Mrs S. J. Mellett

Having read Syd Bashford's letter entitled "I can sleep soundly at night" (PJ, 23 March, p397), I would like to voice the opinion of a newly accredited checking technician.

The accredited checking technician (ACT) scheme that I have just completed was the London Pharmacy Scheme. It was thorough: each technician had to be qualified to BTEC or equivalent standard and to have been qualified for two years with at least six months' experience in their current pharmacy. Their dispensary manager and pharmacy manager also had to be able to attest to their competence.

The scheme starts with a study day that explains the legal and professional framework regarding checking, labelling and packaging requirements, helps the technician to develop their own checking procedure, provides guidance on how to give feedback to other members of staff when checking their work and also takes the technician through some checking exercises.

Once the technician has attended the study day, they then have to end-check 1,000 items without error at their base hospital. Technicians are only allowed to check prescriptions that have been clinically screened by a pharmacist and that have been dispensed by someone other than themselves. Each technician is given two chances at checking the 1,000 items without error. If they fail they have to start the scheme from scratch.

Upon completing the 1,000 items, the technician is then assessed by a panel of pharmacists and technicians from across the London region. The assessment consists of checking 20 items, again without error, and having an interview with a panel of three of the assessment team. The interview consists of questions about the checking exercise just completed and general questions about the technician's perception of checking and how they have coped with the course in general.

Having passed this there is a period of two weeks probation and, all being well, the technician is then able to check. After two years each accredited technician must be reassessed and only then able to check for a further two years.

Each accredited technician trained through this scheme is only allowed to check prescriptions that have already been clinically screened by a pharmacist and dispensed by another person. Self checking is not allowed

Speaking from my own experience I think that anyone, whether pharmacist or technician, after completing this course is qualified to check another person's dispensing

My pharmacy manager and the trust do take legal responsibility, as they do for each member of staff, but the pharmacy manager must be happy that the technician participating in the scheme has the ability to do it in the first place.

As a technician and a dispensary manager, I think that the addition of checking technicians to the dispensary team is a good thing, and in these "Spoonful of sugar" days the skill mix of pharmacy staff has to increase.

I feel sorry that there are some people who believe that checking technicians are not a good thing. I believe that this is a way forward. I do not doubt that most hospital pharmacies would greatly miss their checking technicians if they were no longer there.

S. J. Mellett
Uxbridge, Middlesex


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