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Xrayser: What the 156 closures reveal about DH's attitude to pharmacy

"It's clear the DH fails to properly value pharmacy, but it’s not only the business that suffers"

For a true indication of pharmacy's success, look at how valued the staff are, says Xrayser

You can’t buy much for £1 these days, but that was the value placed on the 250 stores of DIY chain Homebase when it sold a couple of weeks ago, and the story caught my eye because a previous employer of mine also owned a DIY chain.

How many readers of this blog, I wonder, will realise that Boots once possessed a DIY chain called Payless DIY? Flushed with cash in the 1990s, The Boots Company splashed out and bought the Ward White Group which, as well as Payless DIY, included Fads decorator stores and Halfords. A seemingly odd mix to modern pharmacist eyes maybe, though perhaps no stranger than prescriptions being dispensed alongside the fruit and veg of supermarkets.

But while community pharmacy at least has fared better on the high street than DIY stores, we’ve not been exempt from the challenges of business with 156 pharmacies having closed in England since the funding cuts were imposed. Or 134 if you use government mathematics – such dubious accounting presumably explaining some of the more random calculations of price concessions. Whatever the number, it’s clear that the government in general – and the Department of Health and Social Care in particular – fails to properly value community pharmacy, and when any organisation or business is deprecated this way, it’s not only the business but the staff and customers that suffer.

Sadly we’re seeing this happen at our local surgery. Following an unsettling merger with another practice, the surgery entered a time of turmoil as it coped with the general practice equivalent of the pharmacy cuts. Things got so bad for the partners at the end of last year that they resigned their contract and sold out to a local GP conglomerate that has now taken over four practices in the city.

Inevitably with such upheaval and regime change there has been a large turnover in staff. And, equally inevitably, a large turnover of staff means a reduction in patient care because, no matter how effective and efficient your patient records are, there is no substitute for personal knowledge.

Nowhere is this truer than in pharmacy, which must be one of the most “high knowledge” businesses, and I don’t just mean in terms of CPD and revalidation. In times of uncertainty there is no substitute for the relationship built with patients which is why – as a practice manager told me some years ago – if you give people a good experience they will seek you out, even if that means walking past several other pharmacies to get to you.

But you can’t give a good experience if you have lost staff through attempts to reduce salary costs or through a high turnover driven by job anxiety or job dissatisfaction. It’s very old fashioned for a company to say its people are its most valuable asset, but it’s still true that if you want an indication of the value of a business, look at how valued the staff are.

You can’t do it all yourself in our business, so we have to recognise the worth of the people who work for us.

6 Comments

Ian Menzies, Community pharmacist

Interesting article, especially when published on the same day that C&D publishes an article which points out that Boots, Loyds and Rowlands have all objected to an independent contractor opening a pharmacy in Oxford, in what was once presumably one of the above mentioned 156 closures. 'oh the DOH has forced us to close and as far as we're concerned nobody else is getting to open up'. Shameful behaviour.

Delectable Skeptic, Community pharmacist

Just curious.  I'm strongly against multiples but what if there was a local independent nearby who added staff to cope with the increase in patients, who also objected to a new pharmacy proposing to open several months after the multiple closed.  Would that be shameful?  

Ian Menzies, Community pharmacist

The other article only mentions multiples, the basis of thier objections APPEARS to be financial which I understand is not, or at least didn't used to be a valid one.
My shameful behaviour comment relates to Loyds closing a store due to it being no longer 'financially viable', in thier view, then objecting to somebody else giving it a go. Also Boots and Rowlands objecting on, to my mind, financial grounds.
I understand your question, but in this case it's not a new pharmacy, just somebody wanting to re-open one, and as far as I can make out, not that long after Loyds closed it.

Delectable Skeptic, Community pharmacist

I understand the actual scenario in the article.  My question was purely hypothetical...and shall remain unanswered I guess?  (If you do decide to answer, I'll throw into the hypothetical that the local independent who objects has excess capacity and is highly rated by the community - so another independent opening in place of the closing multiple will likely cause redundencies at the first independent and probably not provide a better service).  Just a musing but I imagine as more multiples close it will be a situation that some independents will find themselves in.

Ian Menzies, Community pharmacist

In your hypothetical scenario, then perhaps the behaviour isn't shameful. In your scenario if the established independant has the extra capacity to cover the increased workload of all the prescriptions, then again fair enough. However, and again this is purely my own opinion, their hypothetical objection would be based at least to some degree on a financial calculation. If in the real world if it is more multiples closing, as it does seem to be, then more power to the independants. But again in the real world you will always find pharmacists ( often those who have worked for a multiple ) who want to open thier own pahrmacies. Also in retropect my initial comment would have been better placed on the other C&D article, although I did post one on there.

Delectable Skeptic, Community pharmacist

"Also in retropect my initial comment would have been better placed on the other C&D article, although I did post one on there"

But we all know the discourse is much more civilised on the Xrayser blog!  ;-)

Thanks for the reply.  It is a tough issue to grapple with.  Before the cuts I'd be all in favour of a new independent opening and duking it out but since the cuts I'd now sway towards hopefully independents not canabalising each other and putting both out of business.  If I objected to a new pharmacy opening I'd probably be doing that person a favour and saving them from bankruptcy the way things are going.  All may be a moot point as P2U are bombarding the country at the moment it may just be fighting over scraps.  Good luck.   

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