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'I think about selling up and doing something else almost every day'

"I tried cutting staff but it felt unsafe, so I have put their hours back up. I will have to carry the costs"

An anonymous pharmacy owner reveals the reality of running an independent in the current financial climate, where NHS funding doesn’t cover overheads or salaries

I took over the family pharmacy, which employs seven staff members, from my dad 10 years ago, and refitted it about five years ago. As part of the refit, and in a bid to increase efficiency, I installed a dispensing robot. I aimed to create a professional, modern and clinical environment and I’m proud of how it turned out.

The pharmacy is located in a village setting not far from the city. It isn't a particularly wealthy area, and about 40% of the population are over 60. We dispense approximately 10,000 scripts a month. Six years ago this number was 12,000. The reduction is largely down to GPs writing longer duration prescriptions.

I work every day and often late into the night. I have a great deal of responsibility, but I’m proud to provide seven good quality jobs in a village where there’s little employment.

We offer medicines use reviews (MURs) and the new medicine service (NMS), and we used to offer the minor ailments service before it was decommissioned. My pharmacy has two consultation rooms and still provides locally commissioned services, such as smoking cessation, emergency contraception, chlamydia testing, supervised consumption, flu jabs and NHS health checks.

My wholesaler bills come to £100,000 a month* and NHS funding usually covers that, but nothing else. On a good month, the NHS is still not making any contribution towards overheads, staff training or staff salaries. Nothing. There’s not enough profit or turnover from counter sales or private services to make up for that.

My pharmacy no longer provides home medicines deliveries, and neither does our local competitor. This is unfortunate, because we were supporting elderly and vulnerable people to live comfortably and independently in their homes. I feel certain that people will miss their medications and end up presenting in hospital, but I had to cut the service.

I tried cutting staff but it felt unsafe, so I have put their hours back up and I will just have to carry the costs. I try to protect the staff from feeling the pressure, but they know the difficulties I’m facing.

I think about selling up and doing something else almost every day, but I’ve only just got married and want to start a family. I have heard of people selling their pharmacies just to clear debt. I don’t think I could refit the pharmacy again, so that gives it a certain shelf life.

It’s just so incredibly frustrating. Hundreds of community pharmacies have closed since the funding cuts and while some online pharmacies have opened, when people need medicines they need them there and then – not two days later. If people run out of their medicines, it can very quickly spiral into an emergency – a visit to A&E and maybe a few days in hospital.

*On July 18 this was corrected from the original version, which said the contractor had a wholesaler bill of £100,000 a year, and £20,000 over December and January

This article is part of a collaboration between C+D and the National Pharmacy Association to draw attention to the financial conditions independent contractors are facing.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Email C+D features editor Thomas Cox at [email protected] or tweet @ChemistDruggist using #PharmacyCrisis.

24 Comments

R A, Community pharmacist

The politicians and the general public fail to realise the long term impact on the NHS due to fundings cuts of community pharmacy. 

The closure will effect the most deprived communities who rely on pharmacies because access to their GP is limited. Part of the reason is due to difficulty of recruiting locum GP and new GP partners as they prefer working in affluent regions which have less challenging scenarios. Therefore pharmacies have acted as the first port of call for help.

If these pharmacies in deprived areas are driven out of business then I'm afriad the effect will be permenant. Once these essential pharmacies are gone they are gone. The other issue is the brain drain phenomenon the profession is expericing a significant number is either retiring or moving onto something else. 

Tired Manager, Community pharmacist

Also you need to change your 1st-line wholesaler, Alliance and AAH might over a few fancy do's as perks but otherwise they'll rob you blind

Tired Manager, Community pharmacist

Seven members of staff seems excessive! Your average multiple competitor probably has 2, maybe 3 support staff (if the pharmacist is one of the "favourites") for 10K items

Interleukin -2, Community pharmacist

The fact that you are a pharmacist and you have the above view is best evidence ive seen to date about how badly things have decayed in the sector

Honest Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

What about covering holidays or sickness? 

Charles Whitfield Bott, Pharmacist Director

We realy need to know your GP, looks to me as if your buying needs improved.

 

ABC DEF, Primary care pharmacist

Solution is simple - close down/sell your pharmacy and open a grocery store instead. You pretty much certainly will get less headache, earache, heartburn, migraine, depression, insomnia etc etc you name it. Your next LFT may also improve drastically with the massive cut down on spirits. At the very very very least you no longer will have people shouting at and blaming you for not reminding them to come in and do their shopping when they run out of food!

Oh you probably can also earn much more by taking advantage of food shortages from Brexit after Halloween!

Honest Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

No matter what you decide to do, please put the health and well-being of you and your family first because at the end of the day that’s all that matters. Trust me. :(

ABC DEF, Primary care pharmacist

Agree, and that's one of the main reasons why I left the community sector. It's simply not worth it and none of your hard works are appreciated by neither of your patients, managers, GPs, nor NHS, and RPS and PSNC being as incompetent as usual and GPhC constantly sneaking up on your back trying to strike you off. So bye community you will not be missed.

Ranjeev Patel, Non Pharmacist Branch Manager

Nobody wants you working, the government can't wait to get rid of you, patients don't care, your area manager wants you to perform circus tricks, and the GPhC is now using hidden cameras to try and catch you picking your nose - with such awful wages suddenly a "normal job" now looks like a much better use of my time! Plus the NHS is spending megabucks to try and expose pharmacists as fraudsters!

My uncle turns over 4 grand a week selling kebabs and drives a brand new Audi RS4!

And if he makes someone ill, he doesn't have to spend 18 months with the sword of Damocles hanging over his head wondering if the general kebab council will do their best to destroy him! Why does anyone want to be a pharmacist these days? It's sheer lunacy.

s8chy P, Pharmacy owner/ Proprietor

haha Ranjeev very true. I know of people in fast food with fast cars too. 

Chris Locum, Locum pharmacist

I guess he won't be in trouble if he has a scanning system to prove he has processed real kebabs and undertakes kebab consumption reviews. The fate of the community sector appears to be sealed in the coming years - for independents at least.

Interleukin -2, Community pharmacist

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha......and if hes lucky his KCR target will not be as high 400 a year!!!!

ABC DEF, Primary care pharmacist

Jeeez I should start selling kebabs then!

Reeyah H, Community pharmacist

The figures don’t make sense? The article mentions ‘wholesaler bills of 20K over December and January’ which is unbelievable for 10,000 items. Same goes for £100K a year, that’s no way correct. However, I totally agree with what the contractor is trying to say - there is nothing in our payments to cover staff, loan and rates. Most of us are buying time before we sell (pun intended)  

 

Thomas Cox, Editorial

Thanks for pointing out that error, the NPA has since checked the figure and discovered it was in fact £100,000 a month. This has been corrected. 

A.S. Singh, Community pharmacist

he must mean monthly. The robots must be on some auto ordering system and not price savvy

SP Ph, Community pharmacist

10,000 items a month = 120,000 items per year. Taking a most conservative Average Item Vaue of £7.00, this gives us a NHS turnover of £840,000 without many service payments. Hence, the £100,000 per year wholesaler bill should be a monthly figure, which should include the OTC products too. Then may be this article is right in saying no savings after overheads. Who knows??

N O, Pharmaceutical Adviser

"""My wholesaler bills come to £100,000 a year""

Unbelievable for a 10,000 items/pm pharmacy. I know a 2600 items/pm pharmacy where the wholesaler bill is above 12k per month. So, if your figures are correct then 1. you are dispensing items less than £10 each and not dispensing any of the newer class of anti coags/ inhalers/ insulins etc. 2. you have a very good wholesaler margin, which means you should not cry foul. 

So please clarify the correct figure.

Dodo pharmacist, Community pharmacist

Do you mean £100,000 a month Wholesaler bills? If it’s £100,000 a year you’re laughing!

Leon The Apothecary, Student

I actually did switch to something else, I have had no regrets so far. Even amongst the various health professions, pharmacy has to be one of the most brutal occupatians to your health.

Ranjeev Patel, Non Pharmacist Branch Manager

If you can achieve a rweasonable price for your business now, I would say sell, especially with all of your big concern. Remember that in a few years your business may be worth substantially less.

Sue Per, Locum pharmacist

"Hundreds of pharmacies closed.... where?? in fact very few indeed, majority of those offloaded by the multiples were sold to individuals and small multiples.In fact less than 1% from a network of over 12k. Another nonsensical alarmist article from the c&D editorial.My advise would be ring christies to-morrow, and i am sure they will obtain healthy premium for your business. Its a no brainer.Without any figures to refer to, this article lacks credibility  !!!

 

A.S. Singh, Community pharmacist

Sorry to hear this. People often been spouting that it's a free market and to get with the times and do something else.

Pharmacy should remain fundamentally on medicine supply and the government need to realise that they cannot eliminate us from the picture just because they don't understand what we do. 

I sincerely hope the climate changes, as with all contractors pharmacy has almost become unviable. There are whispers that the goverment have realised they have gone too far and there is reason to be positive about the future.

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