Alima Batchelor, head of policy at the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA), has described the government’s apparent belief that technicians can take over the role of pharmacists in community settings as irresponsible.

Batchelor did not pull any punches as she considered the government’s attitude towards technicians and pharmacists, the PDA recently suggesting that ministers have been involved in discussions around the possibility of the former taking on the responsibilities of the latter in community pharmacies.

“Patients’ lives and well-being depend on receiving the correct medicines, expert advice and specialist support and this is why pharmacists require five years of intensive study before being able to register,” she said when asked if the government’s position on technicians revealed a woeful lack of understanding of pharmacy.

“This masters level education equips them with an all-round, in-depth knowledge of medicines, how they are formulated, how they act on the different physiological systems of the body and how they should be used to best effect.

“As much as technicians can and do make a valuable contribution to pharmacy and to patients, the two-year pharmacy technician course cannot provide the same level of in-depth knowledge.”

Last month the PDA released the first of a series of chapters from a report on pharmacy technicians which it hopes will clarify their roles and capabilities. The report attempts to draw clear distinctions between technicians and pharmacists amid concern the government is keen on technicians overseeing the supply of medicines.

Batchelor added: “In addition some pharmacy technicians are on the GPhC register via a ‘grandparenting’ process where ‘on the job’ experience rather than any formal qualifications were accepted as a route to registration.

“Confusing pharmacists and technicians and behaving as if there is no difference between them is irresponsible. Whether this is because of a lack of understanding, or in spite of a proper understanding, the potential detrimental impact on patient safety will be the same.”