Medicines Optimisation in the Academic Health Science Networks

Helen Belben BSc (Hons), RegPharmTech, MAPharmT, MAPCPharm,

My Career Path

Like most pharmacy technicians, my pharmacy career was not planned. Humble beginnings as a counter assistant in a small community pharmacy led to a Pharmacy Technician qualification, then an Accuracy Checking qualification several years later when the children were older. Eventually, through a remarkable locum pharmacist, I was introduced to the bigger world of pharmacy, and joined the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) Medicines Management team on a sessional basis, where I remained, on & off, for around ten years. During this time, I self-funded a Foundation Degree in Medicines Management at Portsmouth University, then challenged myself to top-up to a Bachelors degree with the Open University, studying Public Health and Sociology.

I have been employed in GP Practices over the last ten years. Working mostly part-time, has enabled flexibility to work more than one role at a time.

After chancing upon an advert for a ‘pharmacist or pharmacy technician’, I was offered the role of Medicines Optimisation Lead at the South West Academic Health Science Network (SW AHSN). Gambling on the fixed term contract, I left employment in a GP Practice to expand my role at the AHSN, where I recently completed two fixed term contracts, totalling two years.

I am now back in ‘GP land’: Lead Medicines Management Technician at Symphony Healthcare Services, where my main focus is managing a pilot for a repeat prescription hub across five of the practices. This involves training and supporting prescription clerks, and helping resolve prescription queries from patients, staff and external organisations.

A bit about Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs)

The AHSNs were established by NHS England in 2013 to spread innovation at pace and scale in order to improve health and generate economic growth.

Many AHSNs employ pharmacists to support their Medicines Optimisation agenda; I believe I was the first pharmacy technician employed within the network.

There are 15 AHSNs across England, and each works across a distinct geography. The medicines optimisation programmes I worked on in the South West included:

Transfer of Care Around Medicine:

As project manager, my role was to collaborate with and support the acute hospital trusts and Local Pharmaceutical Committees (LPCs) to set up a secure electronic interface between the hospital and community pharmacy IT systems. This would enable the secure transfer of information on medications at discharge with the intention that community pharmacists would carry out medicines use reviews; helping patients to understand changes to medication; and improving adherence to help reduce re-admission from medication related incidents.

Reducing Atrial Fibrillation (AF) related stroke:

I managed the project through its early development, collaborating with the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), LPCs and GP Practices. Areas identified for improvement were aligned with that of the AF Association: ‘Detect, Protect, Perfect’. ‘Detect’: included encouraging GP practices to adopt technology to screen patients for AF. ‘Protect’: meant anticoagulation therapy on diagnosis. ‘Perfect’: was based around the optimisation of anticoagulation therapy.

Teamwork was vital at the AHSN and I would not have progressed as well as I did without the encouragement of my Pharmacist colleague, who was clinical director at the time. She played a key part in developing and supporting me in my role. I cherished my time with the SW AHSN; working at regional and national levels further expanded my horizons. The downside was the constant travel that came with it, and this ultimately influenced my decision to seek a return to GP practice employment – an area I know and love!


My biggest obstacle over the years has been the lack of experience in a hospital setting, and the Medicines Management qualifications that come with it. Persistence and not accepting defeat have helped overcome this!

Collaboration is vital for any team to flourish. My career path has been dictated by good working relationships and mutual trust between Pharmacists and Pharmacy Technicians.

My advice for students would be not to underestimate your Pharmacy Technician colleagues – we all make a great team! And always have an eye on the horizon: pharmacy as a whole is undergoing one of its biggest changes and there is no end in sight.




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