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Xrayser: Scrap your free medicines delivery service at your peril

"When did we start viewing our 'free services' in isolation to our other business costs?"

Reducing free services could be an own goal by pharmacies, Xrayser warns

“Your local pharmacy is not simply a place to pick up your prescription.”

I was in two minds when I read that quote from Rowlands managing director Kenny Black, explaining why the pharmacy chain is stopping its free medicines delivery service for all but housebound patients.

There’s a part of me – the forward-looking, clinical revolutionary, Royal Pharmaceutical Society member part of me – that punches the air and shouts: “Yes! Amen brother!” And then there’s the realistic, practical part of me – the part who has to pay the bills and staff wages – which argues that you can’t eat altruism.

Pharmacy owners have always found ways to supplement our income. People walk through the door with a prescription because I keep the drugs they need, and while here they buy goods or services that provide me with the money I need.

This symbiosis has served pharmacy well for many years, so in these straightened times and talk of stopping “free services”, let’s not spoil the ship for a ha’p’orth of tar. When times are hard, that is not when you should cut back on the fundamentals of your business – that is exactly when you should be seen to provide services.

In the past, many pharmacies would charge a fee or have a minimum transaction amount for using credit cards long after their use become the norm. The letters page of C+D would be filled with irate owners bemoaning that the NHS prescription charge wasn’t profit and so paying it other than with cash was a dispensing cost for which the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) should negotiate a fee. Presumably these same owners required patients to swing across the pharmacy on monkey bars while wearing a head lamp, so as to avoid wear on the carpet and electricity for the lights.

When did we start viewing monitored dosage systems, deliveries or any other of our “free services” in isolation to our other business costs? The same goes for stock shortages. Nothing ruins our business more than turning patients away for want of stock, so not only is it worth giving branded latanoprost for a couple of weeks to retain the business, I’ll recoup any loss as generic stock returns with another three weeks of being paid the concession price.

We need to get away from this obsession with doing things for free, because it distracts us from the focus on developing new, innovative, funded services, and if we tie PSNC’s hands negotiating the minutiae we will miss out.

If we want to survive the threat of an Amazon takeover of pharmacy, it shouldn’t be by handing them the delivery business, it should be by negotiating clinical services such as prescription-only minor illness treatments and managing prescriptions for long-term conditions.

A woman phoned last week to ask if the magnesium supplement she got from Boots was safe with her prescription from yet another pharmacy. Reassured she wasn’t at risk of harm, she was then shocked when I suggested she direct further queries to one of these other two pharmacies. I did so because our USP is not delivery or compliance aids but our clinical expertise, and that is what we should not be giving away for free.

A long-running C+D contributor, the identity of Xrayser remains a mystery, but his irreverent views are known by all. Tweet him @Xrayser


Has your pharmacy started charging patients for medicines deliveries?
Yes, we already charge some or all of our patients
No, but we are considering it
No, we would never consider this
Total votes: 100

William Johnson,

After I retired, years ago, one of our elderly patients died and left us £500 in her will as we had delivered her prescriptions to her. Very unexpected but nice to get some appreciation.

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