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Pharmacy technicians are entitled to be called pharmacy professionals

Becoming a pharmacy technician requires a qualification, education and registration – so why shouldn’t they be 'pharmacy professionals' along with pharmacists?

The term ‘pharmacy professionals’ is regularly used by the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) to refer collectively to pharmacists and pharmacy technicians.

So I read with interest a report in C+D that, following the decision of the British Medical Association (BMA) to take the General Medical Council (BMC) to court to stop it from using the term ‘medical professionals’ to describe doctors, physician associates (PAs) and anaesthesia associates, the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) is considering legal action over the term ‘pharmacy professionals', to ensure patients are not “confused” by the different skills and expertise a pharmacist and pharmacy technician each has.

I have been thinking about what it means to be a professional. In sport, a professional is someone who is paid to perform, rather than an amateur who performs for the love of the sport. The same distinction cannot apply to the provision of services like health and law, where Parliament has decided the public require protection from practitioners. 

One of the hallmarks of being a professional is putting the interests of patients or clients ahead of one’s own personal interests. However, there is more to it. 

Dale & Appelbe’s Pharmacy & Medicines Law, which I co-edited, refers to occupations that require intellectual training, but adds the essence of professionalism is the relationship of trust which exists between the practitioner and the person who receives the practitioner’s advice or services. 

The recipient relies on the practitioner’s knowledge and skill, and must be able to have complete trust in the practitioner’s services and the impartiality of their advice. This requires established minimum standards of knowledge and standards of behaviour. There must therefore be a regulator to determine the standards of education and conduct.

The GPhC was established as the pharmacy regulator by the Pharmacy Order 2010, and a year later, the law was changed to require anyone calling themselves a pharmacy technician to be registered. Article 20 of the Pharmacy Order covers both pharmacists and pharmacy technicians. It says that to be registered, both pharmacists and pharmacy technicians:

  • Must be appropriately qualified

  • Their fitness to practise must not be impaired

  • Must have the necessary knowledge of English; and

  • Must meet the required standards of education, training.

In view of these legal requirements for qualification, education and registration, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that pharmacy technicians are professionals. The same standards of professional conduct apply to pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, and the same fitness to practise arrangements apply to both branches of the profession. Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are just as likely as each other to be warned, suspended, or struck off for the same misconduct.

The real issue is not whether someone should be called a ‘professional’, but how things are presented to patients and the public. Pharmacy technicians may be perfectly competent to give advice, but patients and the public should not be misled, inadvertently or otherwise, into believing that they are receiving advice from a pharmacist when the person giving the advice is a pharmacy technician. 

On many occasions, patients and the public will not be bothered about the status of the person who gives the advice, so long as that person is competent to give it.

It is, of course, of crucial importance that pharmacy technicians do not go beyond the bounds of their competence and do not exceed any authority they have been given by the responsible pharmacist. 

It may be appropriate to say: “I am a pharmacy technician, and I am able to help” and for patients to retain the option of saying: “I’d like to speak to the pharmacist”. Badges are a good idea. Perhaps the GPhC could consider issuing pharmacy professionals with ‘pharmacist’ and ‘pharmacy technician’ badges that bear the GPhC logo. 

The law protects the professional titles of ‘pharmacist’ and ‘pharmacy technician’. I hope it will not be necessary to resort to the law over the term ‘pharmacy professionals’.

 

David Reissner is chair of the Pharmacy Law & Ethics Association

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