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.