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Pharmacy2U uses document to urge MPs to push online dispensing agenda

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Pharmacy2U has told MPs online prescriptions could save up to £1.2 billion over three years

The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) has said it does "not recognise the figures" cited in a Pharmacy2U document urging MPs to push an online dispensing agenda.

In its “briefing…to inform policymakers [and] parliamentarians”, the company claims that “online pharmacies – such as Pharmacy2U – have the potential to transform the way pharmacy services work”.

“Online pharmacies can dispense prescriptions – and particularly repeat prescriptions – at scale, managing the process from GP through to the delivery of prescription medicines to people’s front doors,” it says in the document, entitled 'Opportunities For Innovation: Developing A Long-term Plan For Pharmacy'.

Pharmacy2U would not reveal to C+D which MPs it had sent the briefing document to, but explained it had been “issued as the new funding settlement for the NHS was set to be announced”.

In the document – seen by C+D – Pharmacy2U also refers to a report it commissioned from a research practitioner at Bradford University, repeating its claim that “estimated savings from online prescriptions stand at nearly £600 million”.

“Pharmacy2U estimates that up to £400 million could be saved each year,” it adds. “This means potential total savings of up to £1.2 billion over the next three years.”

“These savings provide much-needed efficiencies within the already squeezed pharmacy sector, which could potentially be reinvested in new and innovative services which support community pharmacies to enhance their clinical offer.”

Other claims being investigated

The NPA told C+D yesterday (June 20) that "we not recognise the figures in this report" .

“The fact that the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is already investigating Pharmacy2U tells its own story,” it added.

The NPA is one of 10 complainants which contacted the advertising watchdog about Pharmacy2U’s marketing claims. The ASA is currently investigating two of its television adverts and a tweet sent from the company’s account, after receiving 10 complaints.

Eight of these complaints were in direct response to Pharmacy2U’s claim that “managing repeat prescriptions online…can save the NHS over £300 million a year on prescription costs”, the ASA told C+D in February.

Pharmacy2U defends figures

Defending the document's savings claims to C+D, Pharmacy2U argued it is “cheaper than other community pharmacy services – calculated by average cost of item dispensed – as our large-scale operations are based from a single location” (pictured above).

“However, we fully support the direction of the current government policy to maximise the amount of clinical services which are delivered by pharmacists, in whichever format best benefits patients,” the company added.

What else does Pharmacy2U recommend?

In its latest document, Pharmacy2U calls on politicians to “support awareness of the benefits of online pharmacies” by: featuring online pharmacies in national health promotion campaigns, such as the Stay Well campaign; signposting patients to online pharmacies on NHS Choices; and encouraging GPs to inform patients of “the full range of pharmacy choices”.

It also calls for funding for bricks-and-mortar pharmacies’ dispensing function to be reduced, and the savings given to reward pharmacies for “offering frontline patient care, rather than dispensing medicines”.

Its final request is for “national support [to] be offered to local NHS areas to make better use of online pharmacies”.

“Cynical timing”

Royal Pharmaceutical Society English board chair Sandra Gidley told C+D the timing of the “so-called” research is “a bit disingenuous and cynical”.

“What they are missing is that if they follow their articles to the logical conclusion, they will diminish the community pharmacy network,” she said. “There’s a strong case for looking at how patients can access care and making better use of community pharmacists.”

Addressing Pharmacy2U’s claim of £1.2 billion potential savings, Ms Gidley said the company was “painting a pharmacy fairyland that doesn’t exist”.

“It implies they will always have stock, [when] pharmacists spend a lot of time calling wholesalers to get stock.”

In March, C+D spent a week exploring the world of online pharmacies. Read all the coverage here.

What do you make of Pharmacy2U's document to MPs?

Abid Ali, Community pharmacist

In case anyone has missed this recent development (was long coming) 

Amazon kick-starts campaign to disrupt pharmacy sector​ 

lets see how long it takes to swim across the pond

Leon The Apothecary, Student

Indeed. If no-one else is willing, you can be sure that Amazon will!

P M, Community pharmacist

what is this? is pharmacy 2u saying that they want less money?

what do their shareholders think of this ?


Gavin Dobson, Academic pharmacist

Search for "pharmacy2u fined"

"Some of the data, which Pharmacy2U priced at £130 for 1,000 records, was bought by an Australian lottery company which then “deliberately targeted elderly and vulnerable individuals”, the ICO said. The watchdog said it was “likely” that some customers would have lost money as a result of their details being passed on."

I wish they'd done this after 25th May 2018 - a GDPR fine of  up to €20 million, or 4% annual global turnover – whichever is higher, might have solved the P2U problem once and for all.

P M, Community pharmacist

can we stop calling it funding and instead use payment for services.

Leon The Apothecary, Student

P2U does not have a strong voice in Pharmacy, and one that was weakened to a very insignificant level due to their failure to protect their patient's information. It diminishes any agenda they would attempt.

John Ashworth, Community pharmacist

You can be certain that any savings made won't be reinvested into pharmacy.

Dave Downham, Manager

76.2% of statistics...

Jonny Johal, Pharmacy Area manager/ Operations Manager

Wearing my hat as a consumer of healthcare, I won’t be using P2U. 

Paul Brett, Community pharmacist

The whole concept of moving repeat dispensing away from bricks and mortar overlooks the fact that, presently, each of our highstreet pharmacies carries tens of thousands of pounds worth of stock, which patients often require the same day. If we didn't dispense repeat prescriptions, we would only stock meds for acute scripts, which means anyone who urgently needs meds usually associated with repeat prescriptions would only be able to obtain them via secondary care, unless the online pharmacy network can extend their offering to same day delivery, even at weekends.
We're a city centre, late night pharmacy and we often do in excess of 20 numsas a week, a not-insignificant number of which are failed repeat prescriptions from a certain online pharmacy. If we didn't dispense repeat prescriptions, we wouldn't be able to ensure these patients can get their parkinsons / epilepsy / diabetes / antipsychotic meds at the weekend and they would have to be admitted to hospital to continue their treatment.

A.S. Singh, Community pharmacist

well said, how are online pharmacies more efficient than a well run bricks n mortar?

Lock in your patient base - have a cascade delivery service for elderly down to young (who would otherwise go online) and make your young patients aware of the service too.

Adam Hall, Community pharmacist

I agree with their comment to move funding from dispensing to front line services - because P2U can't be called front line as they cannot legally have direct contact with the patient! Whereas, good old "bricks and mortar" is where patients go to get advice, access services and get prescriptions dispensed

John Cleese, Production & Technical

Is it impossible to imagine both things happening at the same time, and both being successful - P2U et al, and bricks and mortar?

C A, Community pharmacist

The problem is that both are competing for the same funding. 

Dario Canada, Community pharmacist

I suppose nobody is interested in addressing the little ethical way this company gathers info on patients... I hope they really sink!!!

Leon The Apothecary, Student

I wonder how much work P2U needed to put into GDPR to make them compliant?

Charles Whitfield Bott, Pharmacist Director

As I understand it P2U makes a loss. It must be the case therefore that they need more money to be viable, not less. I can not see that dispensing more items would provide the requied economies of scale to change this. I my opinion P2U is not going to be around in the long term, as things stand at the moment I do not see them as a threat to my shops.

john michie, Pharmacy owner/ Proprietor

The reality is P2U is probably not in business to make a profit, its purpose is most likely to quickly grow a critical mass of repeat prescription business which will make it attractive to one of the really large internet organisations. It does not take much imagination to work out which that non UK tax paying company might be! I also think it disapointing that BGF should be a participant in that business plan by  accelerating the erosion of the significant but not fully appreciated value of the face to face contact that High Street Community Pharmacy offers millions of  citizens on a daily basis. JM

Leon The Apothecary, Student

Would you say that it's a mating call for Amazon?

Brent Cutler, Manager

I'm no fan of Pharmacy2U but at least they are doing something to move the industry forward unlike the NPA who have their head buried in the sand.

"The NPA told C+D yesterday (June 20) that "we not recognise the figures in this report" .

Well perhaps they need to buy a new calculator and start working them out.


“The fact that the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is already investigatingPharmacy2U tells its own story,” it added

This is a non-sequitur by the NPA and is lame attempt to deflect from the fact that the NPA is not confronting the real issues but just wants to bash an online pharmacy.


Leon The Apothecary, Student

There's definitely an untapped market with an online service. But have we established a way of accessing that market potential whilst maintaining the requirements and ethos that Pharmacy upholds?

SIMON MEDLEY, Community pharmacist

moving the industry forward ? Only to extinction


Another Pharmacist, Hospital pharmacist

Natural selection - I agree Brent!

You need to look at the the consumerisation of healthcare and step back from the niche that’s pharmacy! People pay for a Dr ‘now’ to their door or on their phone. NHS England is funding the shortfall in a London CCG from GP at Hand - people want health services akin to the 21st Century and funding models are yet to almost all cases! 

People don’t want personal customer service anymore, they just want instant service. Look at the high street in general as shops are closing nationally. As New Look closed, the government didn’t give them any funding. As the butchers closed when the supermarkets moved in, the government didn’t give them all funding. Market pressures and as the consumerisation of health from the younger generations take hold, this change will happen!

How many people enter pharmacies for health services as a proportion of those for whom you dispense repeats?! Even if you’re a 10k item pharmacy, open 5 or 6 days a week, you dispense for on average, 130-150 patients a day. How many of those people ask for services that only a high street presence can provide. Even if it’s 20%: numsas; clinical Q; reassurance; first aid will be cheaper to centralise the service and put a small dispensary in the walk in centre, and supply all advice digitally/over the phone. If anyone says a statistically significant number of people ask for MUR/NMS and all those things then we all know that’s not true.

This is all inevitable in our time of the consumerisation of healthcare. P2U may not have great tactics and have a considerably blemished history re ICO etc but they will grow to profitability as the market (people) continue to consume healthcare their way. 

The days of the professional on their pedestal are over and have been for some time. A “supply function with a clinical twist” is not grounds to maintain a significant infrastructure and as he government works for remote supervision, I’ll see you all in a call centre responsible for 10 mini robot dispensaries that supply acutes outside a GP practice.

H W, Community pharmacist

Well said both Brent and AP. Community pharmacy is a business at the end of the day and we need to adapt to the changing wants of consumers. The longer the bulk of the industry tries to ignore this the worse outcomes for both our businesses and for patients. I have always found this naivity within the community pharmacy business sphere perplexing, especially as it has for a long time been the main "commercial" way people access healthcare - I mean this compared to the rest of the NHS, in that patients expect a higher standard as they are easily able to transfer their business elsewhere to meet their needs 

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