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.