Efficient and innovative dispensing staff can improve the running of dispensaries, so it is important to take care when recruiting new team members.
Before employing a dispenser, the practice needs to decide on a job description. Therein lies a problem, because expectations of the dispenser's role will vary widely.
The job of a dispenser can be split into several areas, the main ones being: prescription receipt and collection; assembly of prescribed items including the generation of labels; ordering, receiving and storing of pharmaceutical stock; and supply of pharmaceutical stock to outside agencies, such as nursing homes, usually in the form of Dosette boxes.
Dispensers also act as a go-between, liaising with patients and doctors, so any potential dispenser must display an inherent grasp of good customer service, while also respecting the roles of the health professionals with whom they will work.
As of November 2006, and the advent of the Dispensary Services Quality Scheme (DSQS), practices must be able to provide 'evidence that staff working in their dispensaries have the competences and knowledge to perform their tasks'.
Competence has been defined (somewhat vaguely) as 'having the necessary skill, knowledge and attitudes to undertake a job properly and consistently'.
However, the role of a dispensary in a busy GP practice is diverse and the modern dispenser should be able to multi-task. The practice therefore needs to identify and clarify the tasks that applicants will be expected to fulfil.
The first thing to decide is whether you want to appoint a qualified dispenser or provide on-going training to an unqualified person.
If the dispensary already has qualified staff in place it may be easier to recruit an unqualified person who is willing to study. Under the terms of DSQS, the minimum level of qualification to achieve is NVQ2.
Qualifications equal to, or exceeding, that level are acceptable; they include NVQ3 in Dispensing Practice, BTEC basic and intermediate certificates in dispensing practice; the National Pharmaceutical Association (NPA) dispensing course; the Boots the Chemist dispensing course; the Lloyds Chemists dispensing course; and several NHS hospital trusts' own courses.
The legal loophole
There is a loophole, for those who do not want to study: if a person has worked in a dispensary for more than 1,000 hours, and has had their competences checked by a GP or practice manager, they can work unsupervised as a dispenser.
This means that practices need not lose the potential experience of people who have worked with GPs for many years without a qualification.
If, however, the job is split - between dispensing and some reception work, for instance - and the person recruited is not qualified, they cannot work independently as a dispenser until they have achieved the requisite 1,000 hours in the dispensary.
This may take time if dispensing work is not the core part of their job.
It is a sad fact that dispensing is not well paid and often the dispensing function is under-rated. There is no official pay scale and local practice managers will frequently decide among themselves what constitutes the 'going rate'. This can range from £6.50 per hour to £10 per hour, with some dispensary managers earning £12.50 an hour.
However, as in most jobs, if someone is well paid for their role, they are likely to perform it better and practices should decide how best to reward their successful candidate, for example, by offering benefits.
There are several considerations, including those of holiday and sick pay, working hours and training opportunities to add into the equation but the job package will vary between regions and individual practices. Advertisements for jobs will tend to be placed in local paper and occasionally in medical magazines, though these may go straight to GPs so existing dispensers never see them.
Response to advertising
New dispensing positions are rarely advertised so the response is likely to be overwhelming, particularly if you are prepared to offer training. This is particularly likely in the current economic climate, so ensure that you are adequately prepared.
Set all your employment criteria before interviews are arranged and provide a written job description; induction process; ongoing training opportunities; and regular appraisals.
This should ensure that practices and their dispensers have a long and happy association that is beneficial to both parties.
- Annette Arthur is a consultant for dispensing practices.