Michelle Hitchen – Production Manager for Pharmacy Aseptic Service

Michelle Hitchen   Production Manager   Pharmacy Asceptic Services TROH NMGH

Michelle Hitchen – Production Manager for Pharmacy Aseptic Service at The Royal Oldham Hospital and North Manchester General Hospital


What is your role? (Job/Team/Department)

I am the Production Manager for Pharmacy Aseptic Service currently across North Manchester General Hospital and The Royal Oldham Hospital, a role I commenced in 2019. Prior to this I was the Chief Technician.

Where are you based?

I’m based at The Royal Oldham Hospital, but I have responsibility for North Manchester General Hospital until the MFT transaction is complete.

What are the main duties you do as part of your role?

My main role is ensuring the safety of all products prepared in an unlicensed aseptic unit. This includes managing the cleanroom suites, clean air devices, staff, processes and procedures. I have to provide continual assurances that our products are prepared according to Good Manufacturing Practices, so there is assurance that they are contamination free and fit for their intended use. This comes from ongoing management of internal Quality Management System to make sure our staff are comprehensively trained, the facilities are functioning, all documentation is up to date and relevant and that we have the resources available to do this in accordance with standards and guidance requirements.

I am also involved in external training programmes which offer underpinning knowledge to staff beginning their journey in pharmacy technical services; seeing a member of your team progress and become confident in their role is very rewarding.

I also work closely with other colleagues in the NCA at Salford Royal to align best practice and manage resources more efficiently. The aseptic unit predominantly prepares chemotherapy drugs and neonatal IV nutrition, however during the COVID -19 pandemic there has been a much greater emphasis on the preparation of other IV drugs such as products to aid intubation, to support critical care.

What attracted you to a career in science?

I had always been interested in pharmacy and how drugs work and act on different areas of the body, so I undertook a qualification to become a Pharmacy Technician.  During a rotation through Aseptics (Technical Services) whilst working as a basic grade Pharmacy Technician, I found my niche. It’s highly technical and controlled work. I enjoy the day to day challenges we face as a team and as an individual. In technical services, you work closely with your colleagues and when you have such a great team, as we have at the NCA, it makes each day so rewarding. I have been able to gain qualifications over the last 25 years including a diploma in Aseptics, Management and Pharmaceutical Technical and Quality Assurance, which I am currently on year 2 and becoming a technical product approver, showing that you never stop learning or developing yourself.

What has your main role been during the COVID-19 pandemic – and how has that role changed to accommodate the demands generated by the pandemic?

During the pandemic I have had to reassess how we provide the service to be able to increase capacity whilst still ensuring the quality of the products the department provides.  After the 1st wave our output was increased tenfold purely on a voluntary basis of our amazing team of technicians, pharmacist and assistants working increased hours to provide much needed and welcomed support to the Critical Care areas. This meant consulting with other Trusts and the regional quality assurance teams to adapt our processes safely to increase our capacity to provide these new products for critical care. During this period, it was necessary to prioritise my role to focus on day to day provision rather than service development.

When the COVID-19 vaccination programme began, I was asked to become involved in the set up and roll out of the programme at hubs situated at Salford Royal, The Royal Oldham Hospital and the Etihad mass vaccination site. I provided support and training to nursing staff in the preparation of the vaccine, developed training packs, training videos, and helped to produce standard operating procedures (SOPS) to allow us to provide a safe and effective service across the multidisciplinary team. This work also involved co-ordinating my own team to support these hubs, whilst continuing with our day to day service provision. It has been a privilege to be involved with such an amazing group of people, all working towards the same goals. Seeing patients and staff receive their 1st vaccination is something I will never forget.

What are your thoughts on the role of women in science?

Over the past 25 years in the NHS I have witnessed how women in pharmacy have broken down historical organisational and cultural barriers, and I feel we are now recognised for value we add to our areas of work. I believe women have proven track records for forward thinking and thinking outside of the box results in many areas. Many of my previous mentors and managers are women in positions of responsibility and have been for some time, which have inspired and pushed me to commit to the same ethos working hard and leading my example.

Anything else you’d like to add.

I am excited by release of Lord Carters Report: ‘Operational productivity and performance in English NHS acute hospitals: Unwarranted variations”, which led to NHS trusts conducting a Hospital Pharmacy Transformation Plan (HPTP) and then to the NHSI Aseptic Review has proven how under resourced but needed our overall NHS Aseptic provision is. Plans going forward will only impact patient care in a positive way. In doing so, it will also create improved career pathways for anyone wishing to join this specialist area. It is an exciting time for anyone considering a career in science particularly pharmacy and technical services.