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OTCs could be ‘profit rockets’ for pharmacies, says Maxwellia boss

Selling over-the-counter medicines (OTCs) can “tip the balance” for pharmacies relying on NHS income, Maxwellia’s chief executive has told C+D.

Pharmacies should take advantage of the “quick, simple and profitable” income streams offered by over-the-counter medicines (OTCs), Maxwellia chief executive Anna Maxwell told C+D in an exclusive interview this week (May 14).

“I call them little profit rockets,” said Maxwell, who sees a greater role for OTC medicines as a share of community pharmacy revenue in the coming years.

She told C+D that selling OTC medicines is a crucial tool for community pharmacy to “tip the balance” from relying on the NHS for 90% of its income.

Read more: Closures 'skyrocketing' with ten a week closing in 2024, NPA warns

The current degree of reliance on the NHS “probably isn’t a good plan” for the sector, she said, suggesting that perhaps 60% “ought to be the goal”.

And Maxwell added that she sees the future of pharmacy as “inevitably” having “a smaller number of high quality” pharmacies with “bigger footprints” offering more services, “freeing up the pharmacist to actually be an important part of the community health care team”. 

Yesterday, the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) warned that pharmacy closures are more than 50% higher this year so far than the same time last year, with 10 closing per week on average.


Pharmacy First, OTC second?


Maxwell also told C+D that she expects the OTC drugs market will “benefit” from the Pharmacy First service, with more patients entering their local pharmacy for advice and treatment. 

And she said that bringing OTC solutions “in the mix” with Pharmacy First could be “far more cost effective” for the NHS than the “convoluted patient group direction (PGD) route”.

“The PGD model is really complicated and possibly unnecessary,” she added.

Read more: Greater use of OTC drugs could save NHS £3.1bn per year, report claims

“OTC has been overlooked a little bit” in the development of Pharmacy First, she said, adding that she would “like to be involved in the development of Pharmacy First mark two”.

It comes as the chief pharmaceutical officer (CPhO) for England has applauded community pharmacy in setting up Pharmacy First amid warnings it has left the sector in “survival mode”.

Read more: CPhO: Pharmacy First is ‘significant improvement’ to NHS care

CPhO for NHS England (NHSE) David Webb said last week that the Pharmacy First service is a “significant improvement in access to NHS patient care”.

But the pharmacy negotiator said this week that pharmacy owners have described Pharmacy First as “slow”, “challenging” and “underfunded”.


Funding crisis


The negotiator this month announced plans to record data on the extra unpaid “informal advice” delivered by pharmacies since the launch of the Pharmacy First service to inform its ongoing negotiations on the next community pharmacy funding deal.  

Pharmacies are “running out of options to stay afloat and will have to close their doors permanently without a real terms funding increase”, the NPA said yesterday.

The next funding deal was due in March but is currently delayed. Negotiations continue between CPE and the government, with no official timetable in place for when an announcement can be expected.

Read more: Maxwellia mulling 'next step' after oxybutynin drug reclassification rejected

But in March, C+D’s Salary Survey revealed that contractors were left struggling to “make ends meet” with the majority reporting a drop in profitability and their own take-home pay last year.

And last month, C+D revealed that since 2021, the number of qualified, trainee and student pharmacists seeking grants and support with debts, benefits and housing have skyrocketed.

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