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'Was I reassured by Jeremy Hunt? That's an emphatic no'

"Things are going to change, and we are totally in the dark"

A locum pharmacist explains why he was not convinced after Jeremy Hunt "reassured" him that the government is not planning for technicians to supervise medicines supply

There are a growing number of reasons why I called on my local MP – Hilary Benn, Labour MP for Leeds Central – to contact the Department of Health on my behalf.

When it comes to the response I received from Mr Hunt, do I feel I was given a clear answer to my concerns or at least something that would reassure me? The answer to that is an emphatic no. All I read was some neo-liberal rambling with a complete lack of readable conviction.

The concerns around supervision – or potentially ‘no supervision’ as I have heard others jest – is a worrying prospect. I feel that there is more interest in developing the roles of technicians rather than us pharmacists. Hardly ever do we read how community pharmacists’ roles will be developed.

Is it any wonder the majority of pharmacists believe that there are plans for technicians to overtake pharmacists’ responsibilities for the everyday running of the pharmacy? This may essentially free up our time, but what alternative roles are going to open up for us?

I know there are roles for practice pharmacists in GP surgeries, but these positions are very limited. Will there be more spaces opening up for the rest of us? I am all for technician roles developing, so as long as they can carry the mantle of responsibility that we currently carry, and there are real job openings for us, accompanied by funded training to help us step into these new positions.

It is these types of questions that prompted me to write to my MP, to actually find out what is happening.

Feeling under-appreciated and disillusioned

Pharmacists’ credentials go unnoticed by professional bodies, fellow members of the pharmacy team, other healthcare professionals and even members of the public, which makes us feel that our skill set and qualifications are under-appreciated.

After many discussions with my peers, we have come to the same conclusion. We genuinely feel that the intense professional training that we undertake to gain the in-depth knowledge to make decisions and provide information on a variety of topics – ranging from making correct clinical interventions, to calculating correct doses, understanding and providing information on many ailments and disease states – is really downplayed.

The fact that we hold a master's degree and then have to undertake professional exams to become a community pharmacist is often forgotten, and we are seen as ‘tablet counters’ and ‘glorified shopkeepers’, rather than the qualified health professionals we are.

The reason I became a community pharmacist was so that I could be a part of the community in a genuine healthcare capacity, while connecting my natural curiosity and interest in medicines with the need to help people. The ‘prestige’ of being a community pharmacist was the icing on the cake.

But that was just shy of 15 years ago, when I made the decision to study pharmacy. Now, I feel incredibly disillusioned with being a community pharmacist, and through my discussions with others, I realise I am not the only one.

Adding strings to my bow

I am six months into my clinical diploma – which incorporates the independent prescribing qualification – at Leicester School of Pharmacy. I decided to undertake this qualification to add some extra strings to my bow, as I genuinely foresee the role of a community pharmacist slowly being diluted to near non-existence and I need to be ready for any other avenues that I could pursue.

This was the other reason I wanted a direct reply from Mr Hunt, as I wanted to know if there would be a role for me to step into if I became an independent prescriber, or would this just be an expensive investment with no real outcome of a job?

I want to know what is in store for the profession that I care about, and one that I have invested heavily in – mentally, physically and financially.

Totally in the dark

Having received Mr Hunt’s response (read the full letter here), I am still just as disillusioned as I was when I wrote the letter to Mr Benn – in fact, perhaps more confused about the future. I feel that if Mr Hunt was not willing to really listen to the medical bodies when it came to his planned changes to the NHS, and then more or less force his changes on the doctors, what chance does pharmacy have?

Things are going to change, and we are totally in the dark.

I will be contacting my MP again this week, with what I think about Mr Hunt’s letter. I also urge many other pharmacists to write to their MPs, so that our concerns can make it to parliament.

It sounds like a long shot, but we need work together and go through this channel to make our concerns collectively heard – before it’s too late.

Ubaid Ur-Rehman is a locum pharmacist based in Leeds

10 Comments

Leon The Apothecary, Student

Jim could be telling me tomorrow was certain to come and I'd still be skeptical.

Ilove Pharmacy, Non Pharmacist Branch Manager

He is a liar but to be fair the profession is riddled with them especially the higher up you go.

Dave Downham, Manager

...no different than any other profession then?

Ilove Pharmacy, Non Pharmacist Branch Manager

No worse actually. Not many other professions is full of individuals and organisations cutting eachothers throats. There is more professionlism in waste collection.

Brian Smith, Pharmacy technician

I used to work as a community pharmacy tech and could not get away from this area of our profession as quickly as possible. I felt as though we were treated as tablet counters from the public and a revenue stream for the multiples.  I worked with some of the best pharmacists i've ever met in these places. They kept me sane. We (as techs) can never replace the pharmacist. But we can look after and support each other. I now work in hospital pharmacy and again, i work with some brilliant pharmacists that care about our patients above all else. Their involvement in the dispensary is validating each script that comes in. Technicians, dispensers and assistants do the other tasks.  Our responsibility reflects our training, knowledge and experience. Each member of staff is essential to the process and everyone knows their limitations. To become solely responsible for the supervision of a pharmacy would require so much more from a technician.  I'm sure the government will end up doing whatever they want to do as governments always do. They rarely listen to those experts who really do know best.  If you find all this a step too far then speak up.  And i'd be grateful if any finger pointing and criticism of my profession could be kept to a minimum. This is not our idea. And i know most of us don't want it anymore than pharmacists do. 

 

BOB SINGH,

I do not think the article is finger pointing at the technicians, as it is not the techs who call the shots. It is more of a "what is going on?" in the direction of the GPhC over finger pointing at technicians.

Ilove Pharmacy, Non Pharmacist Branch Manager

You have my sympathy. Be thankful you're no longer in community. Only reason supervison will be brought in is MONEY. Anything else they tell you will be lies and thats a guarantee.

Brian Smith, Pharmacy technician

I am so relieved to have escaped community pharmacy. I could not do my job as support for our pharmacist as we were so busy chasing unrealistic sales targets and ticking boxes.  The abuse from patients and the pressure from management was awful.  I have much respect for the pharmacists i work with. We can not replace them safely. But you are right....it will always come down to money in the end. 

Alan WHITEMANN, Communications

I too contacted Jeremy Hunt some time ago and was certainly not reassured by any of his responses. In fact it was impossible to pin him down on anything and "ducked and dived" the awkward questions .

Chris Locum, Locum pharmacist

typical teflon politician, nothing meaningful sticks in the mind with them...

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