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Rowlands' parent buys Co-op Health in bid to ‘compete with Pharmacy2U’

Numark chief: We also plan to see how this solution could work for PSUK members
Numark chief: We also plan to see how this solution could work for PSUK members

Rowlands’ parent company Phoenix UK has bought online platform Co-op Health for an undisclosed sum – to help independent pharmacies compete in the digital pharmacy market.

The platform – which allows patients to order repeat prescriptions online or via an app for collection from any pharmacy in England or delivered to any address in the UK for free – had been owned by the Co-operative Group since September 2018, when it bought start-up Dimec, founded by two pharmacists Andrew Bailey and Chris Turner.

In a statement last week (March 12), Phoenix UK said the acquisition would “help independent pharmacies compete against the likes of Pharmacy2U”.

It is understood that going forward prescriptions will only be available from Numark member pharmacies.

Phoenix will “take [the platform] to the next level” by utilising its pre-existing pharmacy networks, Numark and Rowlands, making it a “must-have digital asset for Numark members”, the company said.

“Disrupt the market”

Jeremy Meader, managing director at Numark, said that “too often we see companies offering digital services which seek to bypass and commercially undermine local community pharmacies”.

Instead, the platform will offer a “market-disruptive alternative”, he claimed. “Bricks-and-mortar aligned with digital outreach, which combines the convenience of online access for patients with the personal face-to-face professional advice people need as medical conditions are quite often complex.”

The platform will be rebranded in the coming months, Mr Meader added. He suggested that it could also be extended to members of PSUK – Phoenix’s dispensing doctor and pharmaceutical supplier to GPs – following consultation.

Rise in demand for online pharmacy services

The outset of the COVID-19 pandemic saw electronic prescription service (EPS) nominations increase “significantly” for distance-selling pharmacies such as Pharmacy2U and Echo, with vulnerable people told to shield at home and many others self-isolating.

Tim Davies, managing director of ventures for Co-op, said the COVID-19 pandemic had “rapidly accelerated the demand for online pharmacy services”.

“Having just launched a couple of years ago, tens of thousands of customers are now registered and using the [Co-op Health] services,” he claimed.

“The sale…to Phoenix will enable the continued investment, development and evolution of the products and services to further build on the success to date.”

New appointment 

Phoenix UK also announced today (March 15), that Alex Potter, the former head of Co-op Health, is to become the group’s new director of digital strategy, overseeing the integration of the company. 

In a statement, Mr Potter said he was “delighted” with the appointment, adding: “My challenge is to ensure that digital becomes a friend not a foe for Numark members and provides convenience for Rowlands patients”.

In the summer of last year, Rowlands managing director Mark Bather told C+D that while it “would be foolish to underestimate anybody in the market”, Rowlands was not intimidated by the growth of digital companies like Pharmacy2U or the potential launch of Amazon Pharmacy in the UK.

Does your pharmacy have a prescription ordering app?

Meeand Depharma, Student

"Don't be Dave. Buy Dave"

A.S. Singh, Community pharmacist

I don't understand why people don't just use the NHS app themselves and order the repeat presription. That's your e-commerce right there...

Clive Hodgson, Community pharmacist

Front page of the Times business section on Sunday:

"Amazon’s next high street target: your local chemist"

"...The prospect of Amazon moving into the sector met with dismay from high street chemists this weekend..."

"...Amazon has signaled plans to break into the pharmacy industry in the UK, having disrupted the $300 billion (£215 billion) prescription drugs market in America..."

TC PA, Community pharmacist

There certainly isn't anything like £215 billion to tap into here. Hopefully the relatively poor returns that dispensing NHS precriptions provides will mean they may focus more on private sevices, at least initially. Bear in mind P2U still are far away from making a profit. 

I'm probably way off with this though and they will be a massive player soon. We'll just have to rely on CPCS/DMS/NMS etc. making up the shortfall....


Wally Kazam, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Wow. What a massive U-turn. One of the biggest critics of online pharmacy businesses... buying an online pharmacy business.

What's going to happen to the Co-Op's prescription hub? Is that being mothballed? ("...going forward prescriptions will only be available from Numark member pharmacies")

"Don't be Dave" - "oh actually, be Dave if you want"

C A, Community pharmacist

I for one look forward to the Co-op's re-entry into the pharmacy market in 2026

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