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DH: 'Mixed model' of online and community pharmacies is 'way forward'

Bruce Warner: Nobody is suggesting UK will move entirely to an online pharmacy model
Bruce Warner: Nobody is suggesting UK will move entirely to an online pharmacy model

A “mixed model” of distance-selling and community pharmacies is the “way forward”, according to the permanent secretary of the Department of Health and Social Care (DH).

People will “continue to want the classic community pharmacy” offering, Sir Chris Wormald told the Public Accounts Committee – the parliamentary office responsible for scrutinising government spending – at a hearing on generics prices earlier this month (July 4).

“Will technology affect this market? Yes. As with pretty much any market that involves technology, it is incredibly difficult to predict exactly how,” Sir Chris said.

Referring to earlier comments from England’s deputy chief pharmaceutical officer Bruce Warner about the current “mixed model” of distance-selling and bricks-and-mortar pharmacies, Sir Chris said he “suspects” that this model is “probably the way forward”.

Funding “pressures” reducing pharmacies

As part of his broader response to a question on how the government could make better use of community pharmacies, Sir Chris stressed that while “pressures” caused by the government-induced “funding changes” have reduced the number of pharmacies by “about 2%”, the overall number of pharmacies “has gone up quite considerably in the last decade”.

“Do we want pharmacies to do more in terms of health prevention and advice? Yes, but of course different bits of the NHS budget…have to be balanced,” he added. “That sometimes means tough decisions, as you know.”

Amazon on the horizon?

Earlier in the hearing, Mr Warner pointed out that while “Amazon are not in the [pharmacy] market in the UK at the moment…who knows whether they will be?”

“It is a commercial sector and people are constantly striving to innovate and produce new models to provide the services that the NHS requires.”

“There is a mixed model [of community pharmacy] and I don’t think anybody has suggested that the UK will move entirely to an online market,” Mr Warner told the hearing.

Amazon announced last month that it had acquired its first online pharmacy business in the US, leading onlookers to speculate that it could pre-empt a move into the UK market.

What do you make of the DH's comments?

Leon The Apothecary, Student

There definitely exists scope to utilise more technology within community pharmacy to ease workloads and pressures. We still use ancient methods such as the fax machine and physically giving pieces of paper to a surgery to order prescriptions.

How we dispense medications hasn't actually changed for years. We still accuracy check by quintessentially doing spot-the-difference rather than validation technologies. We still claim for prescriptions by sending a big box of paper to the PPA once a month.

Repeat Dispensing continues to be a challenge on the uptake with many surgeries still yet to fully realise it's effectiveness and failing to utilise the part Pharmacy can provide in managing long-term conditions. You could almost take out Prescription management and administration out of Surgeries and Pharmacies and make that into its own business.

We don't make good use of Independent Prescribing, especially for Pharmacists. In April this year, Paramedics started making a move into this area and currently only being held back by legalisation.

The pharmacy business has a long way to go, and using a donkey rather than a car to get there is only going to make it take longer.

Dave Downham, Manager

Mixed model - great!

(What is the mix, DHSC? Or will the "market dictate"?)

S Morein, Pharmacy Area manager/ Operations Manager

Mixed model Mr Downham at the moment to many contractors means a Range Rover being rebranded as an OverFinch. How is the new book going? With your fiction writing skills it will rapidly become a best seller once published.

Dave Downham, Manager

...and your relevant point is...?

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