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Six future trends in OTC healthcare

GSK sales director Darren Folker gives his forecasts for the over-the-counter market

GSK is a force to be reckoned with in over-the-counter (OTC) healthcare. Last year, the pharmaceutical giant joined forces with Novartis to form GSK Consumer Healthcare – together taking charge of 19 household brands, including Voltarol and Beechams.

There are clearly high hopes for the partnership. GSK sales director Darren Folker repeatedly talks about his “passion” for the venture, which has come at an “exciting period in the market”. So how does he see the OTC market developing in the future?

1. An increase in self-care

Self-care has been a hot topic in the NHS for years. Both A&E departments and GP surgeries are regularly flooded with queries that could easily have been resolved by a visit to a local pharmacy. But the concept of self-care largely seems to have remained just that – a concept.

Mr Folker is confident that the prophesied rise in self-care will eventually become a reality. He says the “macro global trends” – the rise in public knowledge of healthcare, pressure on health budgets and ageing populations – all support this theory. “I don’t think it’s a revolution; I think it’s an evolution that will change over time,” he says.

2. Greater trust in pharmacists

NHS England’s refusal to commission a minor ailments service last year provoked widespread disappointment. But Mr Folker believes pharmacy will increasingly become a destination for minor ailments regardless of whether the NHS is willing to fund a service.

As GP surgeries become increasingly stretched, Mr Folker says the public will have little choice but to go to their pharmacist for advice and remedies, even if this means handing over money. “If you’ve got a sick child, you’re going to want to go to the pharmacist first and if there’s a remedy, I think you will pay for it,” he explains. This growing advice role will foster “more trust” in the sector, Mr Folker believes.

3. A growing pain category

Chronic pain costs the NHS billions. Back pain alone is estimated to account for £12.3 billion worth of funding, according to a 2009 Department of Health report. And it is a trend that shows no sign of slowing. Chronic pain is particularly prevalent in the over-75 age group – a demographic that is expected to increase over the next few years.

So it is little wonder that Mr Folker expects pain relief to remain a strong OTC category. In fact, it is a “real focus” of GSK Consumer Healthcare. “Body pain is one of the most prevalent pressures on the health service,” he explains. “We will always be looking at new areas of pain management.”

4. A thirst for knowledge

Today’s consumers are more demanding than ever. So when it comes to healthcare products, they will not take claims at face value – they want to know the active ingredients and the evidence. “People demand products that work effectively,” explains Mr Folker.

He believes manufacturers will have to respond by providing as much information and education on OTC products as possible. Pharmacists will be key in communicating this “sea of information” to the public, he says. “We want to work with pharmacists to be very clear about how our products work,” Mr Folker pledges.

5. Enduring importance of P medicines

The rise of general sale list (GSL) products has understandably provoked fears over the pharmacy-only (P) category. Nexium and large packs of cetirizine and loratadine were among the medicines to switch out of the P category during the past two years. But Mr Folker is confident that the P category will remain an important one. “The P environment is something we’re very passionate about,” he says. 

6. A competitive environment

The P category may remain but, like it or not, the majority of OTC medicines have GSL status. This leaves the door wide open for supermarkets to steal a greater share of the healthcare arena.

So does Mr Folker see retailers eclipsing pharmacy in OTC sales? He is careful to avoid disclosing which channel is faring better in terms of sales growth, perhaps indicating the level of competition involved. But Mr Folker says pharmacy will remain an important shopper destination: “Our growth really is grounded in making sure we work with pharmacists at the heart of our strategy.”


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