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Future-proofing your pharmacy business

Award Winners Interviews

Future-proofing your pharmacy business

Sobha Sharma Kandel, the winner of the Innovation Award at the Independent Pharmacy Awards, tells Saša Jankovic that thinking outside the box of traditional pharmacy services is the way forward…


“People have really seen the value of community pharmacy during the pandemic, so I’m hoping that will change our future,” says pharmacist and independent prescriber Sobha Sharma Kandel, co-owner of the 100-hour Woolwich Late Night Pharmacy.

Located in a grade 2 listed building in south-east London with a GP practice above it, the pharmacy was busy meeting the needs of its community with a wide range of NHS and private services until the pandemic hit. It then rapidly pivoted to open a Covid vaccination clinic in January 2021 that has vaccinated over 25,000 patients in the subsequent months.

As well as offering AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer jabs the clinic has, in agreement with the CCG, provided walk-in vaccinations for eligible patients. Sobha describes it as being “a real privilege” to work as a pharmacist in the vaccination program. Like so many community pharmacists during the pandemic, Sobha has plenty of stories of how her constantly open doors have helped people in need of healthcare advice and interventions.

“We gave a woman with dementia her first covid jab,” says Sobha, “but when she came back to us for her second one at the appointed time we could tell from her records that her GP had given her a second vaccination only five days after she had seen us for her first, because she’d forgotten that she’d had it, so all we could do was highlight the problem with her GP.

“We’ve also seen patients who had their first jab at a mass vaccination or walk-in clinic but for some reason it had not been registered on their NHS record – usually because someone hasn’t pressed ‘enter’ on the system – so we’ve had to sort that out for them when they’ve come to us for their second jab.

“And then there have been people who had vaccinations in other countries that have different schedules or where the vaccines have different names, so we’ve had to keep up with current protocols and advice around what vaccine they can have next and be able to explain all that to them clearly.”


Pandemic innovations
As well as supporting customers with a vaccination service, other innovations at Woolwich Late Night Pharmacy during the pandemic included offering private Covid fit-to-fly PCR and antigen tests, as well as operating an NHS hotel quarantine service.

The quarantine service was run in conjunction with Greenwich CCG, with Sobha’s pharmacy supplying OTC and prescription medications to patients under quarantine in a local hotel between June and December last year.

“This changed somewhat in August 2021 when the US completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan,” says Sobha, “when we also found ourselves looking after 600 Afghan refugees staying in the hotel, supplying things like baby milk to them.”


Services and support
With two other 100-hour pharmacies in close proximity as well as a Boots store, a Tesco Pharmacy and two independent pharmacies, Sobha says there is a lot of competition locally. This keeps her and her five full-time and five part-time staff on their toes – and she has recently begun a part-time PhD based in pharmacy practice to add to the MSc and IP qualifications that she attained in 2018.

“Running a Covid vaccination clinic has definitely raised the profile of our pharmacy in the community, both with patients and commissioners. Just as we have finished our booster clinic we have been approved to offer age 12-15 paediatric vaccinations in the pharmacy, which people can book online via the NHS website.”

Even with the pandemic, Sobha says business turnover has increased by 88 per cent in the past year. She adds: “My next priority is to expand our clinical services to include a travel clinic. We have also just started ear irrigation, and I am planning to send some of my staff for phlebotomy training next.”

But despite her proactive approach Sobha says there is still a need for more recognition and a more integrated way of working between community pharmacy and the NHS.

“Community pharmacists are good problem solvers and managers, but what we need is support from the NHS,” she says. “We do so much, but during the pandemic it has felt like we are just getting pats on the back for it, and that’s not enough. It’s not money that motivates pharmacists – we just want to make a difference to our communities. But I’d like to see us being paid for our consultations because we are giving advice all the time, and that’s even before CPCS 111 and GP CPCS have really got off the ground.”

Sobha says the way that community pharmacy has been able to demonstrate its role on the NHS frontline during the pandemic has left her more optimistic about what’s to come.

“Our profile has gone up and people have definitely seen the value of community pharmacy,” she says. “I love my profession and I love my job and I am optimistic that maybe this was what was needed to showcase what we do.

“Community pharmacy has so many skills in-house that we are perfectly placed to work with other healthcare professionals in ways that would benefit the NHS, and pharmacists have proven their expertise during the pandemic.

“The future for community pharmacy, as I see it, is that we will have to diversify our roles and services. GPs are under huge pressure to catch up, post-Covid, and we can help, especially when it comes to things like chronic disease management and testing, which can be taken care of right here in the pharmacy.

“We the have the opportunity and motivation to work together with CCGs and GPs, and for pharmacists who are willing to upskill to offer these kinds of services, there is no better time than now to do so.”

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Award Winners Interviews