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The contractor opening up hub-and-spoke up to independent pharmacies

Mike Hewitson explains how he went from opposing hub-and-spoke dispensing plans to making the technology accessible to independent pharmacies

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, community pharmacies have played a crucial role for patients.

The workload at my pharmacy increased by 25% overnight. This was manageable thanks to staff working longer hours, but as a responsible employer I am concerned that my pharmacy team could be approaching burnout.

The world will probably never look the same again, with huge shifts in patient behaviour. New opportunities open up, such as weight loss management, if we prepare to change the way that we work.

Demand for our clinical expertise has never been higher, but we cannot be complacent about continuing to meet that demand.

Community pharmacy's current model is not sustainable either financially or on a human level. We are on a treadmill, working faster, but getting nowhere. Technology must be part of the solution. I’m not talking about sticking an expensive robot in the back of the pharmacy, but I am thinking about using somebody else’s.

The opportunity to outsource some of our workload now makes sense. With GPs likely to be under even more pressure for the foreseeable future, more people will continue coming into the pharmacy to seek our advice or services – which are designed to take the strain off general practice.

Those services could be mass flu vaccinations, or a COVID-19 vaccine further down the line. Along with a widening of the community pharmacist consultation service (CPCS), it is clear that pharmacy needs to create more capacity to deliver clinical services. New legislation should soon allow independent pharmacies to use an automated dispensing hub to do just that.

My journey with hub-and-spoke began about five years ago, when I led the National Pharmacy Association (NPA)’s research into the model. Government proposals were a mess, the environment for pharmacy was hostile, and many of the claims made for hub-and-spoke lacked a fundamental understanding of how independents operate.

It was little wonder that the NPA campaigned strongly against it. Several of these fundamentals have now changed: we have a fixed funding settlement for five years, which means that if we do nothing, we know that we will be paid less for dispensing at the end of this contract.

We must be more efficient. Technology has improved, and I get the sense from colleagues that they are thoroughly fed up and want a different professional model.

To embed the expertise and understanding of how independents operate, I am committed to the creation of the first fully automated assembly hub for independent pharmacies.

I want to make it work not only because I will be using it to transform my own business, but also because it could help to shake up a system in need of radical change. A hub-and-spoke model may not be for everyone, but for those that do want to change, I believe there is an exciting future.

We need to form a more positive relationship with technology, and at the same time make pharmacies easier for patients to use.

Mike Hewitson owns Beaminster Pharmacy in Dorset and is a non-executive director of HubRx

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Pharmacist
Yeovil, Winchester & Dorchester
£50-55,000 per annum

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