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RPS president 'totally regrets' pharmacy technician tweet

Martin Astbury: I have no problem starting a debate on supervision in pharmacies
Martin Astbury: I have no problem starting a debate on supervision in pharmacies

Martin Astbury has said he “totally regrets” writing that pharmacy leaders “should be shot” if they support technicians legally supervising medicines supply.

However, he has "no problem" with the fact that his tweet this morning (May 3) started a debate about legal supervision requirements, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) president told C+D this afternoon.

Mr Astbury came under fire from pharmacists on Twitter this morning, after posting that “any so-called pharmacy leaders advocating pharm[acy] tech[nicians] should be able to legally supervise supply of medicines should be shot”.

“Something that you would say verbally doesn’t always come across well on Twitter,” he told C+D afterwards. “I would hope that no one would misinterpret the fact that I would ever want to incite violence on someone.

“As far as the actual starting of a debate, I have no problem [with that],” he added.

“Very clearly stipulated” my argument

Mr Astbury said he “very clearly stipulated” that his tweet was about the legal definition of supervision, but he regretted using the “four-letter word ‘shot’”.

“Obviously people do take things I totally regret using that turn of phrase,” he said.

Mr Astbury has since taken the Tweet down, because he “could see straight away that instead of actually getting on with the debate of whether we should downgrade legal supervision…people are debating whether the [RPS] president was [inciting] physical violence on people”.

“This is not at all what I was looking to do. I was very much writing as a candidate [for the RPS] elections, but obviously you can never take your president’s hat off.”

Sticking to the RPS stance

Mr Astbury said he is “lucky” that his opinion that “it is totally inappropriate" to legally pass supervision responsibilities to a technician, is in line with the RPS’s official stance.

The society told C+D that its position on pharmacy supervision remains unchanged since 2011 (see details below).

The Twitter reaction


RPS position on legal supervision

  1. There should be overarching principles that describe what patients should expect from all pharmacists – but supervision changes should reflect the differences between pharmacy sectors.
  2. Supply of prescribed medicines to the public requires a clinical check by a pharmacist to ensure the medicine is appropriate, and this should comply with professional and regulatory standards.
  3. Supervision changes must safeguard individual pharmacists’ autonomy in delivering pharmaceutical care and further empower them to exert their professional duty to patients.
  4. Innovations that allow pharmacists to concentrate on patient care are welcomed. Such innovations should ensure continuity of, and enhance the quality of, pharmaceutical care.

Supervision requirements should be amended so the direct supervision of prescription assembly can be delegated to a registered pharmacy technician, so that pharmacists can develop their clinical and public health service role.

Would you like to see pharmacy technicians have an expanded role?

Caroline Walker, Manager

There are lots of comments here about technicians not being pharmacists. That is, indeed, a fact. However, a lot of people are missing the point that the extended role of the pharmacy technician allows pharmacists to extend their roles and free up time to spend on more clinical activities (i.e. what they studied for 5 years). The training of a pharmacist goes well beyond qualification, as does that of the pharmacy technician. 

With pharmacists gaining more clinical, patient facing roles (prescribing etc), are we going to say ‘pharmacists are not doctors’, or are we going to see the bigger picture and recognise that it’s perhaps what is required of professionals in an already pressured NHS, and that one can’t happen without the support of the other. Yes, this is the ‘cheaper’ option, but I have yet to come across a pharmacist who has less job satisfaction than they did before they took on these extended roles. 

The fact that everyone is ready to mention the level of qualification they have in order to carry out these tasks suggests that the answer is training and education, and as long as this is robust enough, I don’t see why all professionals cannot develop in their roles. Each one is different, but they need the other to survive and thrive.

I am very lucky to be managing a TEAM of professionals who recognise each other’s skills and competencies. Therefore I can deploy clinical pharmacists to patient facing, clinical roles where they can use their knowledge and skills to help the wider public. It’s just a shame that this isn’t the case across the whole healthcare sector.

There are always going to be ‘good’ and ‘bad’ employees (both pharmacists and technicians - and every other walk of life). I guess you can only blame the person recruiting and training them.

(Just as a side, many of the pharmacy technicians I have come across already have degrees - I’m aware they are taught critical thinking in subject areas other than Pharmacy).

John Macmillan, Locum pharmacist

I wonder if Mr Mr Astbury is in breach of article 6 of the Professional Standards in that a pharmacy professional "should be polite and considerate" at all times in the tweet that he posted regarding pharmacy leaders "should be shot".

Gerry Diamond, Primary care pharmacist

I remember my pre-reg back in the 1980's, OMG it was an exxpeience too. Anyway, more to life than pharmacy.

Amal England, Public Relations

I totally commend and stand by The President. A president is not a president if at these dire times for pharmacists and pharmacy (Inc techies), they fail to get the message into the heads of what we now see as professionals.... But for how long will they be professionals? It beggers belief that a pharmacist is condemning his comments. Who are these pharmacists? Are they pharmacists? What is there motive here- i suppose we will never know the truth.

Freelance Chemist, Pre-reg Pharmacist

The president is saying what everybody is thinking. Mark my words we will have 'clinical technicians' very very soon.

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

My opinion is that if you are fit to dispense items then you are also fit to check them. HOWEVER I would not take legal responsibility for something that someone else is checking. There are a lot of responsibility issues here which need to be sorted before I would ever be comfortable working with a checking technician.

Amal England, Public Relations

Mr/Ms, Lucky Ex-Locum, some of the technicians I've worked with, I wouldn't trust them to be a trainee counter assistant.

Suleman Adam-Gavar, Pharmacy Area manager/ Operations Manager

Some of the technicians I've worked with have been far more competent than a lot of pharmacists I know and have worked with.

Doubtless if I said that some of the self-riteous twitterati ought to grow up there would be howls of indignation from those who would see it as an attack on those of short stature. "Keep your hair on" would imply hatred towards those with alopecia. Given some of the previous comments, I daren't use the term "low tech"in future...

Gerry Diamond, Primary care pharmacist

Mmmm food for thought, sometime ago the RPSGB had a vote on the supervision issue which rejected it. And then there was a big push to abandon supervision to extend the role of pharmacist to clinical services, which meant checking technicians. And I remember when the BTEC was replaced by NVQs and now there is something else in its place. It looks like a tick box exercise course, so the education seems somewhat diluted.

I really don't know what way this profession is going, but it looks that it certainly ain't what it used to be?

Trudi Ward, Accuracy checking technician

Hi Gerry, The qualification is dual, an NVQ plus a knowledge qualification, with outdated topics such at extemporaneous dispensing and lots of Chemistry , Biochem and physiology.

Let hope the revised syllabus will lift the standard. Though with the introduction of pharmacy apprentices, I'm not sure how that will work in real terms. As a pharmacy lecturer and assessor, I agree, aspects especially the NVQ are very much "tick box".

Gerry Diamond, Primary care pharmacist

Thanks Trudi, I have a lot of respect for pharmacy technician colleagues and liaise with them daily and value their role. I'm open minded how things develop, as one time pharmacist just counted tablets, but I work in a surgery, run clinics and walk in centre as an urgent care practitioner . So, I think we should not sell pharmacist or technicians short on professional devlopment. Let's hope it works out for the best. :-)

Shaun Steren, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Inciting hate - never laughed so much at a pharmacy related comment in my life. I see the twitter mob are out in force again, searching for any possible opportunity  to take offence and supply endless phoney outrage. 

Lancelot Spratt, Accuracy checking technician

I agree. If you really want to see pharmacists inciting hate then look no further than the Pharmacy Forum. I would suggest reviewing the posts of a number of contributors but some have decided to post under new id's. A search using the term 'morons' might be a good place to begin.

Valentine Trodd, Community pharmacist

Good on him - speaking his mind and standing up for pharmacists. Rare in the current environment. He'd have my vote if there was any point in having the RPS.

Trudi Ward, Accuracy checking technician

As a Pharmacy Technician, I agree in principle. Yes we don't have an MPharm  degree. And yes the current, (soon to be  revised)  initial education and training standards for PTs are not fit for current roles. However The education of PTs continues long after their initial qualifications. 



I would argue that PTs are capable of making complex decisions in a clinical environment. Ask any PT working autonomously on a busy acute admissions ward or the PT who is operational lead managing a bed crisis.

The role of pharmacy technician has been stretched to the limit in a hospital setting, with PTs administering medication and conducting basic obs. This demonstrates  with further development opportunities  a PT can expand and work under remote supervision in any setting?

john thompson, Pharmaceutical Adviser

If the President had said this five years ago, no one would have batted an eyelid. However the £ savings from all these proposals are too attractive for the multiples or the government to ignore.


Honest Tikes, Sales

Yes, perhaps we ought to amend "PT" to "CTAP" ----Cheaper Than A Pharmacist

Sham Kiani, Community pharmacist

I am 100% in agreement with his point, and although his choice of words was not appropriate don't think anyone here actually took his words literally. It'pun, so stop this PC madness. I a



Honest Tikes, Sales

No it is not a pun: it is a metaphor

A Hussain, Senior Management

I'm no longer a member of the society but I do like this guy.  Seems like a real life pharmacist for once.  It's easy to say the wrong thing and I'm sure he values technicians too, but as a pharmacist I'm glad he seems to want to fight our corner.

Yuna Mason, Sales

The meaning has been twisted to something it was not intended to say, not least by certain pharmacy technicians. Thank goodness someone at the RPS has a sensible stance on supervision. There are technicians who are deluded or dishonest about the capabilities of the group. It needs some balance to counter the GPhC's failure to distinguish between pharmacists and technicians in much of its policy, the push from the multiples to replace pharmacists with technicians to reduce costs and the naivety of some pharmacists who don't see the bigger picture of what's happening.

Kevin Western, Community pharmacist

Given that many "Pharmacy Leaders" would love just that, on the grounds of cost if nothing else, then I wholeheartedly support him. If, as a technician or worse, a pharmacist, you cant see what he is trying to prevent then you are blinkered to say the least.

Stephen Riley, Community pharmacist

I am an English Pharmacy Board candidate for the RPS 17 elections. I am wholehearted for the RPS stance on supervision and that we must maintian that all prescribed medication supply is preceded by a clinical chaeck by a Pharmacist. Also, any changes to supervison requirements must be underpinned by and aligned with allowing us the autonomy to carry out our proessfional and legal oibligations.

It is quite right that we divest the oversight of technical dispensing process and accuaracy check to appropriately qualified Pharmacy Technicians. They are GPhC registrants to and we need legislation change to enable them to be held responsible for thier work too. Pharmacy Technicians are an invaluable part of the pharmacy team and I believe a lot needs to be done to support their development alongside Pharmacists and service developments. We also need to ensure consistancy in training and opportunities between sectors.

However, without taking anything from Pharmacy Technicians, a NVQ3 is not a MPharm degree and does not qualify to clinically check medicines. It is wrong for leader to imply we are the same or patients would be just as safe or well served if took Pharmacists out of the phamracy. We cannot allow and I will fight any supervison changes that seek to make Pharmacy Technicians a cheap replacement for Pharmacists. Patient safety will be compromised if we take Pharmacists out of the equation and they will be much more poorly served if we move wholesale to a large scale hub and spoke model; loosing our key high street presence.

It is also imperative we fight remote supervison, which often raises its ugly head. Patients are safer the closer the Pharmacist is to the service. We must have a pharmacist for every pharmacy.  

Honest Tikes, Sales

Like our national politicians on their hustings who make  attractive noises to their perceived constituency I fear it to be no more that "aer calidus".The RPSGB now has about as much relevance as Mr Corbins Labour Pater.

What is claimed and what is achievable are separated by some considerable distance

john thompson, Pharmaceutical Adviser

I like your thinking, but the £savings to the multiples (and then the government) will lead to all these things happening in the next decade.


Stephen B, Manager


This has turned into a witch hunt.

His choice of words may have been inadvisable but he's spot on in his strong position about supervision. Technicians can be a wonderful thing but their training simply isn't equivalent to a full degree. I'd rather see him take this position than pander to the people who take offence at the suggestion pharmacists and technicians have different skills and levels of competence. There are brilliant technicians out there who would be perfectly capable of supervision, but likewise there are thousands of technicians who lack the required training. More standardisation and quality assurance is needed before supervision by technicians could even be considered. 


David Moore, Locum pharmacist

The RPS president inciting violence?? If anyone thought that, they need medication. 

Salmia Khan,

“Something that you would say verbally doesn’t always come across well on Twitter,”- still doesn't justify the initial comment made. Whether it's on social media or coming out of your mouth, it is still appalling behaviour from the RPS President.

As a pharmacy technician, I believe the RP role should remain as it is with a pharmacist overseeing legal supervision. 

I do believe that pharmacy technicians and ACTs should be given opportunities to expand their roles. There are many pharmacy technicans that have the right skill set to take on advanced roles, this is no way means pharmacy technicians want to take over the pharmacist's role.

Two roles, working in the same profession for the same purpose- patient safety.

It's a shame that some people do not share the same sentiment.


Shaun Steren, Pharmaceutical Adviser

It is only 'appalling' in your offence seeking mind. You remind my why so many call modern Britain a nation of bedwetters.  


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