NPA switches focus to independent pharmacies

Business NPA chief executive Mike Holden (pictured) claimed that independents were "the heart and soul of the NPA" as the organisation announced that they would be exclusively eligible for full NPA membership.

The NPA has limited its full membership exclusively to independent pharmacies in an effort to increase representation and support for the independent sector.

The NPA announced today (January 15) that only independents, including independent multiples, would have access to full membership, while national multiples would have access to a range of services but would not be represented by the association.

In an exclusive interview with C+D yesterday (January 14), NPA chief executive Mike Holden said the strategy would allow the NPA to "increase the level of engagement with independent members" through two national conferences and a number of regional events being held this year.

"Independents are the heart and soul of the NPA and everything we do is to ensure they have a thriving future" Mike Holden, NPA

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Mr Holden would not reveal specific details on which services would be provided for independents and which for multiples, but he said the NPA would launch exclusive services to members over the next few months.

He said the move would enable the NPA to speak louder on issues that affected the independent sector, as the NPA board would be made up exclusively of independent pharmacists and no longer include Company Chemists' Association  members.

"We will be representing independents and not the national multiples, so we can be clear about the importance of listening to independents and recognising their needs," Mr Holden told C+D.

"We want to be explicit that independents are the heart and soul of the NPA and everything we do is to ensure they have a thriving future," he added.

The plans would enable the NPA to address the specific challenges facing independents, Mr Holden said, and act as a back office for businesses that needed support. But he said the NPA's offering would be much broader and deeper than commercially driven independent support groups.

Mr Holden stressed the NPA had been in discussions with the Independent Pharmacy Federation (IPF) for some time and the two organisations would now work more closely for the benefit of the independent sector.

The IPF told C+D it welcomed "anything that strengthens the representation of independents" and said the sector needed to raise its profile.

Mr Holden also said that the decision was not the result of multiples walking away from the organisation – instead a mutual agreement that the NPA had been planning for more than a year.

"We are forging a new, simpler relationship with national multiples – it gives them the services they want, ensures the NPA is sustainable for the long term and gives us the clarity we require about the NPA's core constituency and purpose," he said.

NPA membership will be open to all independents, including independent multiples, and the organisation said the changes would not have any effect on prices.

How do you expect this move to affect the services the NPA provides?

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John Schofield, Locum pharmacist

I am a retired independent pharmacist proprietor, who as Vice Chair of an LPC has kept in touch.
There is no doubt that the best days of the NPA have gone, as have the best days of independent and also probably community pharmacy.
I have watched with amazement as the NPA recently became more and more multiple orientated.
In the early 80s when a member of the Co-op technical panel I was party to negotiations in which we bought certain NPA services, but didn't have full membership. This was mutually beneficial, we were a source of funds for the NPA and it saved duplicated effort.
However it went too far and I am amazed that friends and colleagues are now buying insurance services from other sources.
The NPA wil always have a place in my heart for the excellent Pharmacy Mutual scheme which saved my bacon when I had a heart attack.
From my experience on the LPC I consider that independents need help and support more now than at any previous time.
Therefore I sincerely hope that the current management of the NPA can get their act together, remember their first principles and provide first rate support, education and services to independents as it used to in the halcyon days of the much missed Tim Astill.

Brian Austen, Senior Management

I don't suppose this has anything to do with the Numark offering on Insurance and indemnity that resulted in their membership of independents switching to their products from the NPA?

Emma Weinbren, Marketing

Comments posted on behalf of the NPA in response to reader questions:

When did NPA members last receive a member satisfaction survey?
"We conduct such surveys annually and the results are considered at length by the Board and senior executive. We also conduct ongoing other surveys with members on specific matters (for example medicines shortages). In addition, a continuous programme of visits to member pharmacies - Mike Holden has been visiting members in Scotland this week, all independents. He’s made member visits a personal priority from the day he joined the NPA."

At what point is an independent an independent?
"Independent community pharmacies come in many shapes and sizes. As far as NPA membership is concerned, we aren’t putting an artificial number of branches when a pharmacy business ceases to be an independent. The important thing for us is that our members identify themselves as independents and share our values. CCA member companies clearly do not identify themselves as independents, that’s the tidiest definition we have right now."

What happened to the NPA’s ‘advertising campaign’?
"The Ask Your Pharmacist campaign is still going and in fact is now bigger in terms of output (media coverage, events, pharmacy display materials, partnerships with patient groups) and outcomes (i.e. improved public perceptions of pharmacy) than ever before. We have a concentrated period of activity during AYP Week (November) but this is only part of our year-round public awareness programme. If you want to get involved, contact We recognise that independents do not have the resources to market themselves in the way that national multiples do, so this is an important part of our work to represent independents."

Raymond Lee, Community pharmacist

Now is not the time to squabble. There is far too much energy wasted on in-fighting in pharmacy politics. You don't here the GPs or Nurses have the same arguments.

It is far better to look at what the pharmacy vision and outcomes should be and just do it!

Comet, Jessops and now HMV have gone into administration - pharmacy needs strong leadership right now and all contractors need to deliver. In a nutshell - do or die!

NPA have been brave and the multiples have been quite mature about this - well done!

Rajive Patel, Community pharmacist

Richard, if you feel this is a squabble, you have misinterpreted this entire thread/debate. We are merely debating if the NPA has both the Will and Ability to transact such a seismic shift away from its past strategy of catering for all and sundry.

C&D offers an excellent medium between industry movers & shakers and the grass roots. In this instance, the NPA would be wise to take on the concerns raised and respond appropriately. Ultimately NPA members are the key stakeholders of the organisation. Personally I use NPA for indemnity & medical information, which I find useful. However, I dont think the current NPA board have the callibre of executives to execute such a change....that said, I would encourage the NPA board to prove me wrong.

Mandeep Mudhar, Community pharmacist

Only yesterday, the NPA were welcoming Sainsburys and thanking them for renewing their membership! Is it a case of knowing that no more multiples going to use their services that has caused this announcement? A bit of hypocrisy going on I think and indeed Rajive, when does an independent multiple stop or start becoming a multiple?

Martin Silver, Senior Management

Many years ago the NPA increased its fees to fund an advertising campaign (whatever happened to that?) but the fees hve not gone down.
When I suggested it be changed to"Ask your independent pharmacist and get good independent advice" I was told that would not be possible as it would offend their multiple members.
Rajiv is a star
Incidentally I am now Non Practicing and no longer a Superintendent

Rob Morris, Community pharmacist

About time too NPA. We independents feel extremely vulnerable at the moment and do not have the cushion of retail sales and head office backroom management that the multiples and supermarkets enjoy. There isn't a lot of common ground between the multiple sector and independents in my view. Not sure how the NPA are going to handle this going forward.

Rajive Patel, Community pharmacist

My only message to the board of the NPA....Listen to your members, poll them, get their views on this change. When was the last time an NPA member received a satisfaction survey?

Change needs to happen bottom up, not top down. This means the NPA need to listen to grass roots of their membership and understand their needs, and then formulate a response strategy. Until I see this, I am afraid, this is just all sound bites without substance.

Stephen Walker, Community pharmacist

Rajive, you are correct on this and as I indicated in my post, if we don't make our views known to the NPA (or anyone else for that matter) then we can't complain if nobody listens. I speak to many independent pharmacy owners each day and it may surprise you to know that despite the differences that make the sector vibrant (which is what makes independents able to compete on an unlevel playing field with the multiples) there is huge agreement between most independents about most topics relating to how they should be working. Someone i.e. every NPA member should make their views known. Together we are stronger, divided we will be ruled over.

bhupendra lakhani, Community pharmacist

Yes I agree with Rajive I have been NPA member since over 30yrs and I see NPA as no representation for retail at all now and has not done to protect the members as much Good luck to new ideas but its coming late but hope not to late

Stephen Walker, Community pharmacist

This is a bold decision by the NPA which deserves full support within the independent sector, albeit despite the grey area of "when is a multiple not a multiple" as discussed by Rajive. My company has provided locums to both the independent and multiple sector for over 20 years but our heart and the majority of our clients is within the independent sector who are the heart and soul not just of the NPA, but of the profession. Yesterday, one of our longest standing clients received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Alliance Healthcare Awards in London. Around 700 people gave a standing ovation to Raymond C. Hall and his wife Fi, who then drove 7 hours through the snow back to Hull to be back in the Pharmacy today. Mr. Hall last year celebrated 50 years as a Pharmacist. It is with people like Mr. Hall that the profession is in good hands and the NPA will do well if they court the commitment of him and very many like him. We live in challenging times, well done NPA for going back to its' roots. It is up to us to give them support and feedback.

Dorothy Drury, Locum pharmacist

I agree, but it is late in the day to bring about change and we need to rally the troops, for a better future for all pharmacists.
The Pharmacists' Foundation

Keith Seston, Other pharmacist

The NPA started to go downhill the moment the multiples were invited on board.From that moment they ceased to be the voice of the independant and did everything possible to dismantle mutuality
I agree with Rajive,the NPA are not competative on insurance,the level of service is not what it used to be and sometimes borders on arrogance."Special Offers" from NPA sales are woeful in the marketplace.Change is neeeded and I hope the NPA become a repesentatve body that stands up for independant pharmacy.As a proprietor it is bizarre that I see the PDA as the best representative body out there.At least they act to prevent the exploitation of pharmacists by the multiples attempting to drive down costs so they can undercut the independant sector

Rajive Patel, Community pharmacist

All a bit to late in the Day, Mike.

Mike Hewitson, Superintendent Pharmacist

In what respect Rajive?

Rajive Patel, Community pharmacist

The NPA was once a very formidable organisation which worked tirelessly for the benefit of its independent pharmacy members. It was also headed, in the past, by some exceptional management.

In recent times, the NPA changed to cater and accommodate the larger groups. In doing this, they lost their soul. They sold out independents for larger multi-nationals and supermarkets.

As the ladscape of the community pharmacy has now changed, and there is less reliance by larger groups on the services offered by the NPA, they now all of a sudden want to court the independents. Well in my experience, this is too little, too late.

Even today, the NPA, on offerings such as insurance, are uncompetitive. Not only uncompetitive but unhelpful. I changed over recently on 6 policies and am making a huge saving. I wanted to keep going with the NPA, but the attitude is poor and there is no proactive willingness to compete. In my case, I was just told, that my policies could not be matched and I was in effect free to go. Well done.

Christopher Racey,

You are so right Rajive. Tim Astill was a "larger than life" figure who sadly passed away prematurely and, with the subsequent departure of John D'Arcy, the NPA seems to have faded into oblivion over the past few years. Too much has changed in the industry and in the profession for the NPA to stand much chance of regaining more than a fraction of its former status or influence.

Dhokia -, Superintendent

Who did you change to ? I can't find anyone competitive. Thanks

Rajive Patel, Community pharmacist

I think if the NPA were serious about re-positioning their offering, they need to understand the economic dynamics of operating a community pharmacy. This means from the perspective of an independent operator, not a multiple.

I am afraid, all too often "collaborative" groups or "buying" groups, all start out with good intentions, but become tainted by their greed to become big, ego craving and profitable and this inevitably ends in them serving their own needs rather than their members.

Representative groups are a fantastic concept if they are run for the ultimate and over riding benefits of their members. If they have good governance strategies in place that allow communication/sharing of ideas, development of strategy etc etc.

They should also allow, independent constituents/members, the ability to leverage the power of the group in terms of maximizing purchase margins, both stock and non-stock. In addition, scale allows for affordable commercial access to, before unaffordable IT, accounts systems, back office systems, HR, strategy formulation etc etc.

Rajive Patel, Community pharmacist

Sorry to rant on, but "The NPA has limited its membership exclusively to independent pharmacies in an effort to increase representation and support for the independent sector."

Now, at what point is an independent operator an independent. Is it at 1 shop, 2 shops, 3 shops or 200 shops. At what point does an independent cut off and become a multiple. I think this is essentially very important, when weighing up if the NPA are on the right lines with their new offering, because a 1 shop independent will have very different support needs to a 200 shop I missing something?

Mike Hewitson, Superintendent Pharmacist

I see this as a positive announcement. I can't comment on the specifics of your circumstances or what went on in the past. I can only comment on what I see when I visit Mike Holden and his team at Mallinson House: that is a group of exceptionally hard working people who are committed to building a better NPA. Will they ever please all of the people all of the time? Possibly not, but that doesn't stop them caring about each member.

This is a special organisation because of its not-for-profit ethos, and heritage as a trade association for more than 90 years. NPA Members will decide its future, the way to shape its direction is to get involved.

Rajive Patel, Community pharmacist

Well Mike, all the best to you and Mike Holden in your endeavors. I really hope it works out. I always wished for many years that the NPA would primarily represent independent pharmacies best interests, and if he can deliver this plan, well then good on him and he will have done the heritage of the NPA very well indeed.

Personally, I think the NPA is past its sell by date. The NPA is lost, it has no reason for being and therefore it is trying to re-invent it self. However, that said, it will be the credit and substance of Mr Holden & Co if they can really turn it around and re-establish itself as the representative face of a united independent pharmacy front.

Good Luck!

martin gibson, Locum pharmacist

Well I never! The NPA shafted us independents when they allowed the multiples to join about a decade ago. It was originally an organisation to represent independents so why are they making such a big issue of it now? Despite this hypocrisy, I wish them well and hope they can get back to their origins again ASAP.

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