Alison Hemsworth: supervision, mentoring and flu vaccines

A minute in the company of one of the most senior pharmacy technicians at NHS England.

Alison Hemsworth

What do you enjoy most about your role at NHS England?

I joined the NHS to help others. My role as assistant head of primary care (pharmacy and dispensing doctors) enables me to be at the forefront of developing policy around pharmaceutical services and contribute to direct patient care.

What has been your best career move?

Taking on the role of community pharmacy services development facilitator with the Leeds Local Pharmaceutical Committee. It was the springboard to the career I now have.

I don’t view any part of my career as not being worthwhile

What has been your worst career mistake?

Mistakes and failures are part of the journey to success. For that reason I don’t view any part of my career as not being worthwhile.

When are you happiest?

Crafting at home, making gifts and cards for friends and family.

What are your thoughts on pharmacy technician supervision?

From my experience, pharmacy technician-led hospital dispensaries have been the norm for some time where robust systems and processes, such as standard operating procedures, are in place, and post-registration training is available. This training will undoubtedly be in the form of an accuracy-checking pharmacy technician qualification with the option to acquire a formal management qualification. In this environment, technology also plays a key role in the medication safety pathway.

What single innovation in pharmacy has made the most difference in your field?

Those that improve patient safety are the ones that impact most on what I do on a daily basis.

What is your ultimate career goal?

A director-level role.

How would you like to see the current pharmacy technician landscape change?

I would like to see pharmacy technicians be able to apply for and be successful in gaining senior roles based on knowledge, skills and competencies at the time they applied for the job and not on their initial education and training qualifications.

How has the role of the pharmacy technician changed over time?

When I first entered hospital pharmacy, the profession was all about dispensing (not accuracy checking), compounding, and checking stock levels (now done by pharmacy assistants).

The role now involves medicines reconciliation checks, managing dispensaries, running warfarin clinics and taking part in more clinically focused activities. The most recent significant change in this sector has been the introduction of pharmacy technicians who are undertaking medicines administration.

In recent years, pharmacy technicians have started to be employed in significantly more settings than those where they could traditionally be found. I now have colleagues who work for clinical commissioning groups, commissioning support units, ambulance trusts, the Care Quality Commission, care homes and general practices.

What takes up too much of your time?

If something is taking up too much time it just means you need to find a smarter way to achieve the same outcome.

Which pharmacy technician has impressed you most with what they have achieved and why?

Lesley Morgan (now retired) was president of the Association of Pharmacy Technicians UK (APTUK) when I first became a member. She was the first pharmacy technician I knew who had broken the traditional mould by becoming the director for the Wales Centre for Pharmacy Professional Education. She was an inspiration for my own career.

What is worth spending more on to get the best?

It doesn’t have to be about spending money. I mentor other pharmacy technicians both in the UK and abroad to give back to the profession I love. Giving others the benefit of my experience is helping to grow future leaders for the pharmacy technician profession.

Why did you decide to do the work you are doing now?

I’m ambitious and always looking for my next challenge. I possessed a desire to understand why healthcare is commissioned in the way it is and what impact that has on patients using those services.

What question would you most like to know the answer to?

How many grandchildren will I have and when will they be here?

It’s really important that we take into account the educational needs of the healthcare professionals that are delivering services

As you progress in your career, what are you becoming more and more wary of?

The pace of change in healthcare is exponential. While the major focus has to be in getting services right for the patients that require them, it’s also really important that we take into account the educational needs of the healthcare professionals that are delivering them.

What is currently the biggest challenge facing pharmacy technicians?

The lack of a clearly defined career pathway. The introduction of APTUK’s Foundation Framework for Pharmacy Technicians has begun to address that. However, its use is not mandated with consistency lacking between organisations and individuals. In addition, almost all other professions have a pathway that takes individuals on a journey through foundation practice to advanced practice and finally onto mastery. That latter part of the journey has not yet been taken up by the pharmacy technician profession.

When people look at you, what do you think they see?

A Yorkshire lass with a Staffordshire accent.

How do you manage feelings of self-doubt?

I talk to trusted friends and members of my family. If that fails, I have a whole heap of self-help books. 

How do you deal with stress?

Sometimes not very well, but sitting in my garden listening to the birds singing and the bees buzzing helps.

The worst advice, that I didn’t listen to, was, ‘you can’t do that — you’re only a pharmacy technician’

What is the best and worst career advice you have received?

The best advice was from my wonderful father: “Be whatever you want to be and make whatever you want of it.” The worst advice, that I didn’t listen to, was: “You can’t do that — you’re only a pharmacy technician.”

If you were a drug, what drug would you be and why?

A flu vaccine. One of my biggest successes has been facilitating the introduction of this service into English community pharmacies.

Know an interesting pharmacy professional?

Let us know if there is anyone you think The Pharmaceutical Journal should feature. Email with their name and contact details.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, October 2018, Vol 301, No 7918;301(7918):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2018.20205470

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