What does it mean?
Skill mix refers to the skills and experience of staff, their continuing education and professional development, years of experience and how they bring these together to influence their professional judgement.
Employing an appropriate skill mix approach in community pharmacy will ultimately enhance the pharmaceutical care of the patient. This is achieved by improving performance by making better use of the knowledge and skills of pharmacy support staff and pharmacists.
Skill mix in your team
In addition to pharmacists, there are a further three groups of staff who work in community pharmacy. They are: Medicines Counter Assistants, Dispensary Assistants and Pharmacy Technicians. These three groups are collectively referred to as the “support staff”.
The NPA is aware that although community pharmacy owners employ different levels of support staff with varying levels of competence there is lack of detailed and accurate data about the pharmacy support workforce. As the largest training provider for support staff we here at the Education & Training Department are always at hand to provide guidance on how to approach skill mix issues and provide training solutions.
Why is skill mix important to pharmacy?
The recent trend of increasing prescription items dispensed by pharmacies, more customer interaction and the introduction of more patient-focused services places more time demands on pharmacists. The increasing workload makes it imperative that pharmacists ensure not only do they manage their time effectively but that they also delegate routine tasks to suitably qualified staff. This effectively means indentifying skill mix and working practices so as to maximise the potential of each member of the team. Developing the role of support staff will give the `headroom' needed for the development of new patient-focused services.
Delegation can be defined as the transfer to a competent and appropriately trained individual, the authority to perform a specific task in a specified situation.
It is clear that the strategic move for pharmacy is towards the provision of new patient-oriented services, as indicated in recent health and public health white papers for England. The pharmacy contracts in place and minimum training requirements for support staff mean pharmacy needs to ensure it makes the best use of appropriately qualified support staff.
How to manage change
Implementing change is not a one step process. To successfully implement change pharmacists and pharmacy support staff need to “buy into the concept”. Often it is pharmacists (employee, self-employed or owners) who need to identify which routine traditional tasks they currently undertake that can be appropriately delegated to suitably qualified staff.
In simple terms a “best fit model” needs to be implemented where the most appropriately trained person undertakes a particular role effectively and efficiently allowing more suitably trained staff to undertake the tasks most appropriate to their skills. Undertaking a training needs analysis can help to identify any gaps in knowledge and skills that need to be addressed through training.
After undertaking the training and skills analysis, identifying what is required now and in the future, a framework needs to be in place to support staff and ensure:
- The work is at an appropriate level
- The person has the knowledge and skills to be able to do the work
- The scope and parameters of the work to be carried out is clearly understood
Ensuring appropriate staff are trained effectively involves an investment in time and money. Sceptics could argue further developing staff will mean an increase in pay rates – making this economically unviable (especially in today’s climate). Conversely this view can be interpreted as a short term view only. It has been shown in many different sectors that investing in your staff not only aids recruitment and retention but ensures staff motivation. In addition, making the best use of the skills of the whole team will always bring gain through efficiency saving.
The development and application of new skills is integral to improved performance. In general individuals enjoy learning and taking on new roles (provided they are supported accordingly). The provision of pharmacy services will require changes to people's roles, it is essential to ensure that individuals are supported through their training and through the changes in working practices. The provision of support and the appropriate leadership skills from the pharmacist will lead not only to improved performance but ultimately enhanced patient care.
Training and the NPA Skills Escalator
If pharmacists are to re-engineer their teams and delegate work, staff will need the appropriate skills to handle that work. Training for staff development is, therefore, essential. The NPA believes it is useful to have a structured training programme and a career path for individuals to work towards and have developed the NPA Skills Escalator.
To find out more about the courses the NPA have to offer, why not visit the NPA Pharmacy Training Courses webpage.