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Co-op re-enters pharmacy market with prescriptions app direct from GPs

Rachael Clarke: Co-op has no plans to open any bricks-and-mortar pharmacies
Rachael Clarke: Co-op has no plans to open any bricks-and-mortar pharmacies

The Co-operative Group has re-entered the pharmacy market with an app that allows patients to order prescriptions direct from their GP and collect from any pharmacy in England.

The app – which officially launched on Saturday (May 18) – enables patients registered with a GP in England to order their medication directly from their surgery. They can then choose to have it dispensed from Co-op Health’s centralised distribution hub in Lea Green, Merseyside and delivered to any address in the UK, or dispensed by, and collected from, any pharmacy in the country.

The launch of the app follows the Co-operative Group’s acquisition of healthcare technology start-up Dimec, a service that allows patients and pharmacists to manage repeat prescriptions online.

The group's superintendent pharmacist Rachael Clarke told C+D ahead of the launch: “If a customer has got a local pharmacy that they are happy using, they can continue to do so.”

“Using the same technology base as the NHS app”, the prescription request “is directed straight into [the patient’s] GP surgery, so we don’t actually do anything at all with the order”, she explained.

“The GP then reviews the request as they would usually…[and] decides whether or not to prescribe.”

The app will help GP surgeries by “freeing those people in the surgery, so they’re able to focus on patient-centred care”, Ms Clarke said.

And “hopefully, the community pharmacies that are receiving the prescriptions ordered through the app might see some of that benefit as well”, she added.

Click-and-collect locker pilot

The group is also piloting a click-and-collect service, allowing patients to order their prescriptions to lockers located in five Co-op food stores in north-west England.

“We hear from our customers that click and collect is something [they’re] interested in, and there certainly seems to be an appetite in that area.

“We’re running a pilot local to our digital pharmacy, so we can learn how to structure that service going forward,” Ms Clarke said.

The group is also trialling offering digital health checks in six of its food stores in Manchester. The machines allow customers to record their weight, height and blood pressure, as well as offering digital health advice for free, the Co-op said.

The group will be “doing some much bigger releases and adding new services”, including the “ability to book GP appointments on the app”, in the next few months, Ms Clarke added.

“No plans” for bricks-and-mortar branches

Despite re-entering the pharmacy market, the group has “absolutely no plans” to open any bricks-and-mortar pharmacies, Ms Clarke said.

“We want to do things in a digital way [and] we want to try and plug what we’ve been told is a gap in the market,” she added.

In 2014, the Co-operative Group sold its 780 pharmacies to wholesaler company Bestway for £620 million, who branded them under the Well Pharmacy name.

26 Comments
Question: 
Does your pharmacy offer any online services?

Community Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

Ahhhh...the good old Co-op....always hated bricks and mortar pharmacies, loved 'core business - (groceries)....Bought out good independents and multiples  en mass...couldn't manage them so sold everyone 'down the river' into the jaws of the crocodile that is Well....Thanks a lot on behalf of myself and the rest of your ex wage slaves....Do us all a favour...concentrate on groceries (your lagging way behind your competitors there) and leave pharmacy to the professionals instead of poaching our customers via the internet with blue sky IT promises (oops off line, computer says No! ...it will happen no doubt) ...CO-OP (Couldn't Operate Open Pharmacies) so we'll try to steal your customers instead...Nice....NOT!!!

Arthur Thucksake, Pharmacy owner/ Proprietor

We are all community pharmacists and we should be looking after our customer needs. 

If my customers want to go online and order their medicine then so be it, there will be a number of customers that will still want to come to my pharmacy.

How High?, Community pharmacist

I think you'll find looking at the personnel involved that somewhere behind this sits a collaboration between Well (Bestway) via their automated dispensing hub in Stoke-on-Trent and the Co-op from whom Bestway purchased the pharmacy business. 

They've been trying to get through the mire of automation for ages and failed repeatedly so I guess this is the next initiative to make something work.

s8chy P, Pharmacy owner/ Proprietor

Pharmacy will cease to be a face to face profession. There will be warehouses dispensing and computers checking. If a patient wants to speak with a pharmacist, they call a call centre full of 'medicines experts' doing Google searches all day long. Where is the need of a pharmacist in the community??
It's easy to say innovate or die, but there isn't space for thousands of online pharmacies, so it's inevitable that thousands will close and communities will change into dull, non social places.

Community Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

Absolute rubbish....just like robocop/robodoc/robodentist....great in theory,fall flat in reality.flat battery,no power, ,no wifi, system crash etc ...IT promises the world and falls pitilessly short of those promises...people like people...get off your laptop Mr IT ....technology is not the only way believe it or not

Leon The Apothecary, Student

For the sake of debate; what need is there for a Pharmacist in purely the dispensing process?

A robot can dispense, apply a medicine label, and verify a medicine far faster and with almost perfect accuracy compared to a dispenser, technician or pharmacist. Clinical assessment can be done at a computer; there is no need to be physically there. 

Community Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

A few robots have been installed in competitors near us ...The flood of new business we've had has been brilliant.One machine was fine for a year or so then failed several times,maintenance costs too high so decommisioned...The other Big Boy pharmacy shifted business to their shiney new hub miles away and cut staffing(what a surprise)...Locals found out and quite rightlyboycotted the corporate pigs...win win for us as we recruited some of their best dispensers to dispense the competotors scripts that now come to us ...bring it on as I sincerely hope these scenarios are repeated across the UK...as to the dreamers ...keep reading the sci fi magazines and dreaming of a robotic utopia (nightmare) ...just hope there isn't a power cut/loss then your truly stuffed..

Jeff Jobs, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Because pharmacy was a social hub that everyone all went to meet at...?

Benie I, Locum pharmacist

I would call it a joke but jokes are supposed to be funny.

N patel , Non Pharmacist Branch Manager

so    co-op dispense and patient collects from MY pharmacy.....why??? and I have to waste my time looking for their RX and store it and patient will possibly ask for advice on meds dispensed by CO-OP . Anyone know if there is a legla requirement in my NHS contract that says I have to do so or can i opt out and how?

 

Barry Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

 

You need to re-read...dispensed by, and collected from, any pharmacy in the country.

But even though you are wrong this is another pointer to the future. 1% of current Rx are done via this - pt orders online, Rx request approved electronically, generated Rx sent electronically to pharmacy and then Rx dispensed by automation. That is why start ups like this have so much to aim for.

Sell all your bricks and mortar pharmacies for £620m. Invest £60m and achieve the same through disruptive technology. They can afford to nurse heavy losses for 3 to 5 years.

The business model for community pharmacy is changing. Superfast. What are Boots working on to save £1billion a year? There is a future but it is not anything remotely like where we are now.

Rachael Clarke, Superintendent Pharmacist

Hi N Patel, sorry if it isn't clear. Customers place prescription orders on the app and can either choose to have it dispensed by our pharmacy and posted. Or, they can choose to have it dispensed by any other pharmacy in England. So where customers have a pharmacy that they are happy using but would like to use the app to place orders then they can do. There's no obligation to use our pharmacy. For other pharmacies, the process is identical to receiving scripts ordered using the NHS app, Patient Access etc. I hope that helps explain? 

Paul Guest, Manager

I take it the 'no competition clause' agreed with Bestway must have run out now.

Why don't you guys stick to what you're good at instead of trying to decimate the already struggling pharmacy sector. You demean our profession by acting as if posting medicine is an innovative solution or business model as opposed to something many pharmacies refuse to do for safety reasons. 

 

Leon The Apothecary, Student

Online Pharmacy is actually quite the untapped market; so there's this proverbial gold rush from everyone to set themselves as the new industry standard right now.

How High?, Community pharmacist

I think you'll find looking at the personnel involved that somewhere behind this sits a collaboration between Well (Bestway) via their automated dispensing hub in Stoke-on-Trent and the Co-op from whom Bestway purchased the pharmacy business. 

They've been trying to get through the mire of automation for ages and failed repeatedly so I guess this is the next initiative to make something work.

Seena R, Community pharmacist

Click and collect, posting medication.... how can the GPhC allow this!!  Soon we'll have pharmacies running with no pharmacist and all for the benefit of the multiples.

 

 

Leon The Apothecary, Student

Government has been pretty clear about this being the direction that they want Pharmacies to move in.

Community Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

Is this the same government that has totally fallen apart , botched brexit, has no public favour and is still in power ?? It is the customer that counts and voters/taxpayers who decide untimately by voting these idiots out...Not some IT fan in the 'current' government that may have had a nice dinner with some corporate rep selling Techno answers with promises (inflated expectations) and potential back handers..or is the MP/relatives of involved in the robot manufacturers i.e vested interest perhaps ??

Jeff Jobs, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Soon we'll have no high street pharmacies at all thanks to their lack of innovation and just maintaining the same status quo of sticking labels on boxes and getting paid for it. Innovate or die. High street pharmacy has become so stagnent and is just dying a death.

Leon The Apothecary, Student

I heard down the grapevine a lot of ex-Well talent jumped ship to Co-op.

I wonder if it has something to do with Well breaking their relationship with InvaTech and their in-development Capa PMR and switching over to Analyst PMR systems to incorporate their centralised fulfilment model?

How High?, Community pharmacist

Well Rachael was heavily involved in the work with invatech and the advanced dispensing project so this collaboration can’t be a coincidence. 

The shame of it is that staff levels were cut once at the time advanced dispensing was being mooted as the way forward and are in the process of being slashed again as the new management implement Analyst with no knowledge of the previous cuts  

As a result most of their branches are falling over...... 

Shame as it was a great company when part of the co-op group  

 

Leon The Apothecary, Student

It makes perfect sense for Rachel to move over; she is one of the perfect candidates to realise Co-op's goal and hopefully taking some lessons from her time in Well Pharmacy.

That massive staffing hours cut within the AD stores was seriously a bad move in my opinion. The teething period seriously damaged those affected stores and one quite understandably loses a lot of employee goodwill when you force a reduction of hours on them. Backtracking was never going to be an easy move. 

Every Well Pharmacy that I've worked in just seems so light on staff in comparison to their competitors. They call it Central Fulfilment now; and it is a clear picture of what the company appears to be trying to achieve.

Jeff Jobs, Pharmaceutical Adviser

I can't understand the link you're trying to make at all here. What's that got to do with Co-op doing a prescription app and locker collection?

Leon The Apothecary, Student

Quintessentially using the same idea and technology; just minus the baggage of having brick and mortar stores. It will be interesting to see if the same issues arise for Co-op, or the gained experience will give them a sense of foresight in achieving their goal smoothly.

George Ibrahim, Community pharmacist

Click & collect lockers are a savvy move

Leon The Apothecary, Student

It is quite commonplace in Australia I believe?

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