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'The problem within the profession is'... shining a light on pharmacy technicians

Community Pharmacy Wales (CPW) secured contractors extra funding for investing in their pharmacy technician workforce, earning a coveted C+D Award for their efforts

“The problem within the profession is we’re just used to doing great things and we see it as part of our job,” proclaims Aled Roberts, the associate director of contractor engagement at CPW. “We just see it as everyday when, if you look from outside, often what community pharmacy achieves is extraordinary.”

Looking at the list of C+D Awards 2023 winners, this is evident. From private menopause services and pharmacists making waves in PCNs to luxury community pharmacies and universities schooling their students in diversity and inclusion, their stories offer proof of the excellence on show in primary care all around the UK.

Among those who took home a trophy at a glamorous prizegiving ceremony last September is the team at CPW. They scooped the Training and Development Award after they successfully negotiated the community pharmacy workforce enabler scheme as part of the 2022/23 Welsh contract.

Read more: Menopause? Meet the award-winning private pharmacy throwing menopausal women a lifeline

Under the deal, contractors are paid for training and retaining pharmacy technicians in their pharmacy, with a staggered amount of money available over a two-year period for employing pharmacy technicians at different stages of their career.

Contractors can claim £2,174.16 per year for having a full-time pre-reg pharmacy technician, while they are entitled to £4,348.32 for having a registered pharmacy technician working in the pharmacy. To encourage career progression among pharmacy technicians, contractors are paid £5,435.40 for having a registered pharmacy technician on their team who is training to become an ACT, while those with a registered ACT can claim £6,522.36 per year.

“The idea of that was to have a funding pot within the contract that provided an incentive for contractors to recruit and train, and [then] to enable them to retain, pharmacy technicians within the sector,” says Aled when he sists down to chat to C+D about CPW’s awards success. “So basically, it rewarded contractors for putting people through the pharmacy technician pathway and for having them in branch as well.”

 

An evolving role

 

The scheme is already paying dividends in terms of clinical service provision and greater efficiencies in dispensing, which will only improve as more staff become ACTs. And as the sector moves towards an increasingly clinical future, there’s never been a better time to bolster the pharmacy technician workforce. The C+D Award judges said the benefits to patient care were clear and applauded CPW’s recognition of the entire pharmacy team.

And as contractors struggle to retain their staff, it’s provided an all-important incentive for pharmacy technicians to stay in community pharmacy. “Over the past few years, increasingly workforce has been an issue,” explains Aled.

While the shortage of pharmacists in the community sector is well-documented, there is also a high rate of attrition among pharmacy technicians. With a growing number of opportunities for pharmacy technicians in other sectors, many were leaving community pharmacy for pastures new, says Aled.

Read more: The GP pharmacist with a prescription for success

“It’s great that those opportunities exist but obviously we want to hold on to the talent that we have within the sector,” he says. “And often if you lose a pharmacy technician you lose the training behind them as well, you have to start from scratch. So, it was really important to enable contractors to retain those increasingly vital members of staff.”

As community pharmacy in Wales has become increasingly service-led over the past few years, the need for pharmacy technicians in the workforce has become more important “both in terms of supporting the pharmacist workforce and in terms of what they can offer themselves”, says Aled.

Among the services that can be offered by pharmacy technicians in Wales are discharge medicines reviews (DMRs) and flu jabs. But this looks set to broaden in line with the evolving powers being given to pharmacy technicians, including supplying medicines under a PGD. He adds: “We have a lot of services that pharmacy technicians are able to provide in community pharmacy, so it just sort of made sense that we recognised the added value that they give to the business.” 

 

A positive move

 

Unsurprisingly, then, the feedback on the enabler scheme from contractors and pharmacy technicians alike has been warm. “Pharmacy technicians have been very positive about the opportunities to deliver services, particularly with the discharge medicines review service,” says Aled. “We’ve got about 17% of all our DMRs in Wales completed by pharmacy technicians and that’s increasing all the time.”

The community pharmacy network in Wales has “really risen to deliver what the Welsh government has asked of it in terms of huge numbers of services right across the board” he says. And there’s a real recognition of the role pharmacy technicians can play in that. “Having a well-trained community pharmacy technician is worth our weight in gold,” says Aled. “A number of contractors are regularly having their pharmacy technicians deliver services because it enables pharmacists to also deliver the services that can only be delivered by a pharmacist.”

Read more: The award-winning community pharmacist leading the charge for DSPs

But success has not come without its challenges, he warns. With a slew of closures over the past few years, the number of community pharmacies is at its lowest ever – down to just 686. “There are funding challenges,” concedes Aled. “Clearly pharmacy in Wales has really stepped up since we negotiated our new contract two years ago now. [But] it’s a struggle. I think people are finding, particularly, squeezes on dispensing and on margin really difficult.”

But he’s confident that with the right remuneration, contractors will continue to show an impressive performance on clinical services. He says: “The will is there and the ability is there from community pharmacy contractors in Wales but they need to be properly supported through that with enough funding to keep them going.”

 

Coming home victorious

 

In a crowded category, CPW triumphed over the competition at the C+D Awards last year. Aled says the team were “really surprised” to be named the winners because there “were lots of good entries” vying for the Training and Development Award. “It was nice to be recognised and always good to be holding a trophy,” he jokes. So where does the team keep this precious prize? “We’ve got it in our office," Aled reveals. "We’ve got that alongside a photo of the team in the office, so that’s quite nice.”

Read more: The university schooling its students on equality, diversity and inclusion

He says that the C+D Awards 2023 offered CPW the perfect platform to “fly the flag for community pharmacy in Wales and the fantastic work that our contractors do.” He explains: “I might be biased but I always think the Welsh network is underrepresented at national awards and there’s so much great work that we see on a daily basis from our pharmacies."

So, take it from Aled: it's defiintely worth the time and effort to submit an entry. And for this patriotic pharmacist, that's especially important for teams in Wales. As he puts it: “I don’t think people shout about their work enough so I definitely encourage anyone to apply, particularly people from Wales, to make sure people are aware of what we can offer.”

The C+D Awards 2024 will take place at The Brewery in London on September 19. Could you or one of your colleagues be crowned as a C+D Award winner? Check out all the categories for the 2024 awards and enter today.

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