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Community Pharmacy – The future and how to embrace it (part two)

In my first blog I examined how community pharmacy particularly in England and Wales ended up where we are today. I promised then I would help provide the necessary answers to how to operate in the modern landscape.

Just over twenty years ago a very smart investment banker told me that healthcare in the 21st century would be driven by economics.

I must admit I was initially shocked by this statement as somebody who was very much a product of the NHS model of a health system for all – regardless of economic status.

His contention was that in the West with increasing life span and thus the subsequent increase in both medication and treatment that accompanies this – how were British governments going to afford healthcare.

His answer to this challenge was community pharmacy.

For some historical perspective when Aneurin Bevan set up the NHS in 1948 – one of the imperatives and beliefs was that free access to healthcare would lead to a reduction in long term costs as everybody would be healthier. This objective was blown out of the water when the annual budget allocated in that first year was spent by month seven. In other words, demand in healthcare will always outstrip resources. There will never be enough money.

However, the most economical way to achieve health improvements is through community pharmacy. This has been demonstrated through countless studies. Scotland has gone further down this road than any other part of the UK and is seeing the benefit of utilising community pharmacists to both deliver and increase efficiency in the NHS and achieve better health outcomes.

With rising health inequalities in England and Wales it is only a matter of time before economic pressure makes it inevitable that the same course will be taken down South.

Ten years ago, I contended in a magazine article that community pharmacy in England and Wales should not rely on government, of whatever political hue, for their survival. That is true today as it was then.

The Covid pandemic has devastated the high street – no one is immune – Debenhams, House of Fraser, John Lewis, Gap, restaurants, pubs– the list is endless.

So, what do we do?

I will do this in bullet points:

  • Your pharmacy is a business and needs to operate on the basis of maximising profit – within strict professional and ethical parameters
  • Accept the NHS income pro is no longer going to be the prime driver of your business
  • Next, get your marketing – both social media and advertising – established. The days of opening doors and customers flowing in and spending are gone. You need to advertise and promote – if you do not market nobody knows what you do – plus the world has changed in many ways but most graphically in the way people access information. Look at PharmacyMentor and your website
  • Stop selling pound lines – start selling items and products that make a decent margin.
  • Your USP is health care – these are the areas you need to concentrate on and there are plenty of opportunities in this area. Furthermore, remember people who are economically disadvantaged will spend proportionally more money on well-being than their wealthier compatriots.
  • You have a steady flow everyday of both acute and repeat patients. Are we selling to these people – both services and products. One of my frustrations, as a retailer at heart, is observing the lack of selling skills in community pharmacy to a captive audience.
  • Some examples are the lack of selling post prescription and when sub-total is pushed on the till every staff member should ask the simple question “Is there anything else you need?”
  • Start offering private services and marketing them correctly. Look at and check out Pharmadoctor
  • Look at your customers what are needs – I still remember my father selling bottles and bottles of Ferrol Compound and Barkers Liquid of Life in Peckham because they were a must have for the West Indian community.
  • Can you specialise? A sports pharmacy or pain pharmacy?
  • Staff training – this is vital – can you cannot do it all yourself.

Implementation of these will radically change the focus and profit of your business. The issue is do you want to?

Community pharmacy is an ethical and professional business – that does not mean it cannot be commercial. They are not mutually exclusive.

I genuinely believe the future of independent community pharmacy is bright – it is not what was – but change is not only good but is inevitable. The new generation of pharmacists as well as some of the golden oldies, like me, know that and are making the change.

Can you afford not to?

John White B Pharm


Healthpoint TV


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