Learning about ethics in pharmacy: from religious principles to massive robots

Victoria Wilkinson is a pharmacy technician who now teaches at Bradford College.

“In your average pharmacy, there are more technicians and assistants than pharmacists, and those are the groups we train here at the College” Victoria explains.

“Once this was a predominantly female profession, but there are growing numbers of men coming in, and we get people of all ages, from 16 to in their 50s. It’s a great career because there are so many areas you can work in: aseptics, which involves sterile environments; radiopharmacy, where you work with the radioactive pharmaceuticals
used in nuclear medicine; stores; purchasing and clinical trials to name a few. There are good jobs in NHS hospitals, but there’s also the army, teaching and pharmaceutical companies, so it’s an important and varied specialism.”

Victoria Wilkinson. Pharmacuetical Science Tutor, Bradford College

Victoria Wilkinson. Pharmacuetical Science Tutor, Bradford College

Victoria and I talked about the ethical issues that pharmacy technicians have to address:

“All technicians have a code of ethics set by the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC). For the last two years, membership has been mandatory, and there is a student code of conduct which students refer to when in training. For us, the patient comes first and that’s something we always emphasise. The findings of the inquiry into Stafford Hospital have made headline news, and it reinforces the importance of ethics for all healthcare staff.”

Another area is personal ethics. “There are some people who will not dispense the emergency morning after pill because of religious principles. We encourage open, tolerant and respectful discussion on sensitive topics like this. It is in fact legal for a pharmacist to refuse to dispense the pill, but they have to register this in advance with the GPhC and they have to advise the patient of other places where they can get the contraceptive.”

Another area students can feel strongly about is branded and generic drugs, where pharmaceutical companies charge a lot for patented and protected drugs for a 12 year period from the date they are released onto the market. “It’s the companies’ way of recouping their investment in research and development,” Victoria explains. “But there is a downside – cost. And for instance there is not enough research into areas such as antibiotics, possibly because that is not an attractive commercial option for the big companies.”

Victoria also teaches relevant areas of the law to College pharmacy students, and she recites a long list of legislation that is relevant. I ask whether a pharmacy technician might spot something like inappropriate or corrupt prescribing. “It is the job of the pharmacist to clinically check prescriptions so they may be more likely to identify something, but a technician could also spot something like this.”

Other areas for discussion are human error and how to minimise it, health and safety issues and data protection. “Working in a hospital or pharmacy you might well see the prescription of someone you know, or bump into someone out and about who you’ve seen as a patient,” says Victoria. “You have to manage those situations professionally.”

We talk briefly about the introduction of massive dispensing robots into hospital pharmacies. “You enter the prescription and the robot finds and packages the medication,” Victoria explains. “If the programming is right and the drugs are in the right place, it makes things safer. So humans still have to get everything right.” Does it lead to loss of jobs? “No, I think it gives the pharmacy staff more time to be with patients, which is what matters most.”

Victoria got her first job at the age of 16 at Bradford Royal Infirmary, and trained one day a week here at the College. She then became a full-time arts student at Bradford College, eventually doing a degree in fashion design. “I went back into pharmacy  as a locum technician, working anywhere in the country, just to make money while I waited for a fashion job,” Victoria explains. “But I got placed in Quality Control and suddenly something clicked and I fell in love with the job.”

Victoria has many years practical experience working in the NHS. While hospital-based, she gradually built up teaching skills, and in 2011 she jumped at the chance to work at Bradford College, where she helps provide training to our student pharmacy technicians.

The award-winning Bradford College Pharmacy Team (Victoria is in the back row).

The award-winning Bradford College Vocational Science Team (Victoria is in the back row).

Victoria’s team is celebrating right now: they have won several awards including most recently Partnership of the Year for the work with City Training Services and the Pharmacy Development Unit (University of Leeds) in the NHS Yorkshire and the Humber 2013 Apprenticeship Awards for National Apprenticeship Week.

They were also highly commended for the Provider of the Year category for these awards. Last year they won the College Team of the Year award. Two of their students are nominated as Rising Stars 2013 in the Further Education Awards, and  the team has been shortlisted for the Cogent UK Life Sciences Skills Award for Provider of the Year – to be announced by Science Minister the Rt Hon David Willetts.

So pharmacy at Bradford College is going strong – and lots of fingers are crossed for forthcoming awards!
Find out about Bradford College’s pharmacy courses.

photos and text by ruth wilson, bradford college

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2 thoughts on “Learning about ethics in pharmacy: from religious principles to massive robots

  1. I am really loving this blog. This shows a true representation of how pharmacy has and still is developing and of how patient care is the center of our role in pharmacy.

  2. Hi Zoe, I’m glad you are enjoying the blog! I was really interested to talk to Victoria and find out about the issues involved, and how good the College is at training pharmacy technicians.

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