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‘The sector may rue Boots’ decision to cease pharmacy provision in 22 stores’

The news of Boots’ recent decision to cease pharmacy services in a number of stores may have passed some by, but the sector may regret the day patients become too comfortable not visiting bricks-and-mortar premises, warns The Area Manager

When is a chemist not a chemist? It would seem we are about to find out, as Boots is now removing the pharmacy department from 22 of its stores as part of a drive to “adapt to a changing market environment”.

Let’s remember that Boots has opened many stores without a pharmacy in the past. Sometimes this has been deliberate, other times I am sure the granting or refusal of an NHS contract made the decision for the multiple. I even recall some odd arrangements, way before hub-and-spoke and dispensing hubs were around, where a Boots branch was a pharmacy, but had no NHS dispensing contract. You could leave your prescription with the team, and a colleague would fax it to a nearby store, have it dispensed and brought back later that day for you to collect. Sounds so quaint now.

Of course, Boots hasn’t been immune to the funding challenge affecting community pharmacy, and in some locations has also closed and merged pharmacies like most other multiples.  

It’s a sign of the popularity and reach of the Boots brand and product range that these stores, with all their costs and overheads, are still predicted to be profitable without the pharmacy. One would have to suspect that a lot of cosmetics or meal deals will be going through the tills!

If any of the stores were in my area, I would secretly think this was a great development. A reduction in the long-term complexity of my group, one fewer pharmacy's safety, staffing levels and profitability to fret about. All marvellous, at least until the next restructure!

For the pharmacy professionals on site, it will be interesting to see if their loyalty to the business is greater than their loyalty to the location. I often think the latter is more important to newer pharmacists. With the current shortage of skilled pharmacy colleagues, I doubt anyone is really threatened if they are willing to travel elsewhere.

Most importantly, there will no doubt be a few grumbles from patients. However, I think the larger multiples have, with the assistance of COVID-19, trained patients very successfully to move to an online service at the first hint of friction in a physical location. A customer switching to an online offer is a very welcome result for a pharmacy company that has had to close part of a day due to pharmacist shortages.

The public has moved its expectations of bricks-and-mortar shops of any type. We are moving towards them being a showroom rather than a stockroom. We feel lucky if they have what we want and now understand more than ever before if they don’t – provided an alternative solution is made easy for us. As a sector, we should be mindful of this change, though. If it becomes too prevalent, with patients and pharmacy customers too comfortable not having a pharmacy to go to, we lose our USP and this threatens the viability of all pharmacies.

So, on reflection, perhaps such change is something that the sector will rue after all.  A symptom of the general erosion of the value created from our presence. Sadly, I fear the only real surprise is that it’s so far only reportedly happening in 22 locations.


The Area Manager works for a large multiple

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