Award Winners Interviews
A Remedi for the future
Deborah Evans set up Remedi Health, a private pharmacy and clinic, in 2021 and she and her clients have already seen the benefits, as Sasa Jankovic discovered…
As a long-standing agent for change in the pharmacy sector, pharmacist and business owner Deborah Evans has a well-deserved reputation for making things happen.
Her role as Pathfinder Work Programme Lead for the Healthy Living Pharmacies initiative over a decade ago paved the way for a national roll out that has resulted in every pharmacy in England being accredited as a Healthy Living Pharmacy (HLP).
She is also managing director of Pharmacy Complete, an award-winning training and consultancy business that supports pharmacists and their teams to maximise their professional and business potential.
Deborah’s latest venture – for which she won the Innovation Award at the Independent Pharmacy Awards in 2022 – is Remedi Health, a private pharmacy and diagnostic testing clinic in Winchester.
Opened in December 2021, Remedi Health reverses the traditional community pharmacy approach and, with no plans to obtain an NHS contract, runs a range of private testing and treatment services including phlebotomy, biochemistry and Covid testing, while also offering clients a private prescription service and supplying over-the-counter medicines.
Healthcare in partnership
The catalyst for this approach came from setting up a pop-up location offering Covid tests during the pandemic, which saw Deborah’s operation becoming one of the first in the UK to be listed by the Government as a private provider of Covid testing.
“Doing thousands of Covid tests in a little room meant I spent a lot of time talking and listening to people about the challenges they were facing,” says Deborah. “It became clear there was an unmet need for people to access healthcare in a way they could feel in complete control of, in partnership with their healthcare professional, rather than feeling that general practice was always the gatekeeper.
“Since services in community pharmacy are what I've been advocating and leading on for the past 20 years I saw an opportunity to create a pharmacy environment where people could access information and services around their health, and I knew I didn’t need an NHS contract to do that.
“Medicines are also part of the solution, so as we are a private pharmacy. We employ an independent prescriber on a sessional basis and have a whole suite of PGDs that give us added flexibility as well.”
Deborah will herself become an IP in the coming months, and will add that qualification to the varied team backing up the Remedi Health offering.
“We have a medical director (a doctor) who advises us if we need it, two other pharmacists, two clinical administrators, a phlebotomist (and I do that too) who is a midwife, a fourth year pharmacy student on a Saturday, someone on social media, someone on accounts, a nutritional therapist, and my amazing clinical administrators who run and manage the logistics, client bookings, and look after the retail side.”
Deborah identified some core offerings for the Remedi Health portfolio early on such as travel health and vaccinations generally, as well as blood tests. “I want to be able to take people through from diagnosis to treatment,” she says, “especially in areas which have huge unmet needs, such as those addressed by our menopause clinic.”
The rest of her service choices have been based on demand – even if it’s only for one client. “We rarely say no to anything and we can usually deliver on it,” says Deborah. “For example, we were asked if we did drug testing for pilots, and I said no but we will, and I went away and sorted it. Someone else needed an MRSA swab prior to a private operation so I asked our labs, worked out how to do it and we did it. We may never do one again, but we can.”
Changing the model
Deborah sees Remedi Health’s reversal of the traditional community pharmacy approach as “changing the model” rather than turning her back on NHS services.
“The approach I took is that this business had to stand in its own without thinking of it as a pharmacy but as a private healthcare clinic where you can have all these diagnostics, have treatment prescribed and referral on if you need it, and also access your medicines – although not NHS prescriptions, which would take us in the direction of a different business model,” she says.
Although part of Deborah’s plan is to approach commissioners as a private provider in a range of different areas, she does acknowledge that not having an NHS contact creates some barriers. “We won’t automatically get commissioned to do, for example, the hypertensive or contraception services, and we don't have access to the summary care records.”
And there are other challenges. “We have to rely on our clients to be good custodians of their own patient records,” says Deborah. “The NHS app is increasingly becoming a way of patients owning their own medical records but helping them effectively also relies on me taking a good history. As we use PharmaDoctor for our PGDs that record can be shared with the client’s GP through the platform, and we can write a letter if we prescribe medicines and encourage them to share that with their GP if they wish.”
One of the instant results Deborah has experienced from her new model offering are clients’ positive reactions.
“People say how lovely it is to be given the time to be listened to and feel things are being joined up,” she says. “It is true of all pharmacists across the sector that the difference we can make is enormous. In the current context being able to help people quickly and appropriately with care, compassion and time is hugely appreciated.
“It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster over the last year so I am making sure we are building and optimising our services, always bearing in mind that people want time with us and that’s what they pay for.
“I love the feeling that we are making a difference and the clinical satisfaction I get is off the chart.”