Last month, Boots became the last of the largest four multiples to alter its medicines delivery service, when it announced that it would charge patients either a one-off fee of £5 or a 12-month subscription of £55 for delivery of prescriptions ordered in-branch.
Lloydspharmacy kicked off the trend in 2017, announcing a subscription-based service for customers in England wanting medicines delivered to their homes. Each patient can pay £35 for six months and £60 for a 12-month subscription.
Lloydspharmacy tells C+D that since then, it has also added the option for households with multiple patients requiring home delivery to sign up for £52.50 for six months and £90 for 12 months.
Housebound patients are still eligible for free home deliveries, as are patients outside of England, it adds.
Despite the fundamental changes to a service that has long been offered free of charge in community pharmacies, the multiple says patients have not been deterred by the subscription model, and it has not significantly affected the number of deliveries Lloydspharmacy is making to patients’ homes 20 months on.
“We knew when we introduced these changes that it would take a while for our pharmacy teams and customers to get used to them,” it tells C+D.
“Charging for delivery is standard practice in virtually every other industry, so the feedback we’ve received so far has been generally understanding.”
Pharmacy teams have been provided with guidance on communicating the charges to patients and customers are reminded that the multiple's online service still offers free prescription deliveries and a click-and-collect service, Lloydspharmacy adds.
The multiple also plans to introduce a track-and-trace delivery service in the near future, it tells C+D.
Rowlands: Increased footfall
When Rowlands announced in July 2018 it was scrapping its free delivery service for all but “the most vulnerable” housebound patients, managing director at the time Kenny Black stressed the multiple “can no longer provide an expensive, convenient service which the NHS is not willing to pay for”.
A year on from the announcement and Rowlands tells C+D that it has not stopped free medicines deliveries across the board, but is “prioritising deliveries to more vulnerable patients”.
The changes seem to have had a positive impact on the multiple, with the overall number of deliveries falling “in line with our expectations”, it says.
“As a result, we are now seeing increased footfall in branches, which enables the patient to benefit from health services and advice they wouldn’t necessarily receive if they weren’t visiting the branch,” Rowlands tells C+D.
It admits that it took time for staff and customers to adapt to the new delivery terms, but it is now “business as usual”.
Well's £10 million investment
Well Pharmacy invested £10 million into revamping its home delivery service in June 2018, which included adjusting the criteria for new patients requesting home deliveries under the terms of the Equality Act 2010.
There is no paid-for option for home deliveries, but they are free when ordered via Well’s app.
The multiple did not tell C+D whether the new criteria-based service has had an impact on the number of deliveries, or whether there had been any pushback from staff and patients since the changes were introduced.
Will others follow?
When Lloydspharmacy started to charge patients for deliveries, it said it was an attempt to change the sector’s attitude towards this service.
Scrapping free deliveries – which are “costing [the sector] a fortune” – would cut down on inefficient routes and numerous vans contributing to pollution and congestion, as well as encourage countless able-bodied people of working age back into the pharmacy, it predicted.
The multiple said that some independent pharmacies may choose to follow its lead, and indeed, a C+D poll nine months later revealed that 23% of pharmacies were already charging for deliveries, while 45% were considering it.
Has your pharmacy started charging patients for medicines deliveries already? Let C+D know by voting in the poll below.