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Exploring the evolving role of Clinical Pharmacy Technicians at Gateshead Health

Careers in healthcare are always in demand, but not all career paths are created equal. One area of healthcare that is evolving rapidly is within pharmacy. Here, we explore what it means to work as a clinical pharmacy technician, a career option that might surprise you.

Meet Kevin McElwee, a member of the inpatient pharmacy team. Kevin has recently completed his pre-registration pharmacy technician apprenticeship qualification, which was supported by Gateshead Health’s inpatient pharmacy personal development pathways. Kevin has been with Gateshead Health for seven years so far, originally starting out as a pharmacy assistant. By taking on training, he moved on to become a pharmacy dispenser and then progressed to a two-year apprenticeship to become a clinical pharmacy technician.

Kevin McElwee, Pharmacy Technician Apprentice
Kevin McElwee, Pharmacy Technician Apprentice

The clinical pharmacy technician apprenticeship involves studying for two years with a full day dedicated to studying from home each week. The course covers a wide range of pharmacy-related topics over 20 different modules, which were assessed through online testing, written paper submissions, and virtual online lectures.

The inpatient pharmacy at Gateshead Health employs over 100 people, with a team of 10 people in the dispensary at any one time.

Denise Taylor Chief Pharmacy Technician said:

The Pharmacy Department at Gateshead Health is committed to developing and training all grades of staff. By providing this training opportunity it allows the hospital to maintain qualified pharmacy technician posts and develop roles within the department. It also supports the Health Education England expansion programme to employ more pharmacy technicians across the region.

Denise Taylor, Chief Pharmacy Technician

So, what does a ‘normal’ day look like for Kevin within the inpatient pharmacy team? Some of the tasks that a clinical pharmacy technician apprentice might undertake are stock control, completing prescriptions, dispensing medications, helping with the receipt of goods, working on the wards with patients face-to-face and carrying out drug history reports with patients who are staying in hospital for medical care.

Pharmacy technicians are now starting to take on more and more roles that the pharmacist would have traditionally undertaken. As pharmacists are moving towards prescribing medicine more and more, technicians are moving in to fill the gap.

As the role rapidly evolves and expands into more clinically led areas, its responsibilities and scope are expanding. One example of this shift is pharmacy technicians running warfarin clinics. Warfarin or anticoagulant clinics (medicines that help prevent blood clots) are when patients come into a clinic from all different areas of the North East.

The pharmacy technician takes a blood sample from the patient and analyses it using an international normalised ratio (INR) blood test. This test tells the pharmacy technician how long it takes for the person’s blood to clot.

From this, they can determine the most suitable dose of medication for the patient. Historically, this role has been traditionally carried out by a pharmacist.

Speaking of the shift in responsibilities, Kevin said:

When someone becomes a pharmacy technician, you are put under the national technician register, the same process if you were a registered pharmacist or a doctor. As you progress, you work to a higher set standard, so because you’re working to the highest standard, you’re expected to be able to do a wide range of responsibilities that you might not have traditionally expected a pharmacy technician to carry out.

Kevin McElwee, Pharmacy Technician Apprentice

On an average day, Kevin checks around 30 to 60 prescription items as part of the additional checking course alongside his apprenticeship course. As part of the two-year apprenticeship course, Kevin had to check over 1000 prescriptions within a small time frame without a single error to pass the additional course enabling him to qualify as an accuracy checking clinical pharmacy Technician.

Kevin said:

Becoming a pharmacy technician is a great opportunity for people looking for a career option. I enjoy working at Gateshead Health. The inpatient pharmacy team is an incredible team to work with, which makes coming and working here enjoyable every single day.

Kevin McElwee, Pharmacy Technician Apprentice

The role of the clinical pharmacy technician is evolving and expanding into more clinically led areas. As healthcare demands continue to grow, pharmacy technicians will have more opportunities to take on more clinical roles and responsibilities, making for an exciting and rewarding career path.