Community pharmacy LLP?

The smartest move for independent pharmacy is to now adhere to a model of collective working

Chairman of the LIPCO federated group Mukesh Lad suggests that the way forward for independent pharmacy is to operate within a corporate model

Britain has been thrown into turmoil and who knows from where the next surprises will come, so the prospect of time off this summer is an enviable one. I’ll be putting my annual leave to good use this year, reflecting on recent events, refocusing priorities and shaping the future of my business.

Britain is leaving the European Community. If I wasn’t already aware from the incessant press coverage, it became painfully obvious from the cost of my holiday Euros! In the words of the Brexiteers, it’s time to “take back control and make Britain great again”. And listening to the Remainers, working together is a given for a more secure future. Either way, the only certainty seems to be uncertainty and anxiety.

Amongst the worried well of our profession are the many independents calling to ask my advice in reacting to this unprecedented uncertainty and any specific measures to be taken immediately. The most important thing we can do is take control of our own destiny by grasping new opportunities to work together.

We’re already dealing with so many challenges: staff shortages, stock issues, GPhC inspections, NHS instability and the endless flow of correspondence. We don’t need more demands on our ability to consider and choose. We’ve got enough, and more pressing problems far closer to home: government cuts, financial shortfalls and the undoubted erosion of our bottom line.

Fuel for thought

We therefore need to dedicate any available effort to a much broader solution realigning our business future. Consider for a moment the evolution of the petrol station. There was a time when they simply sold petrol. But today they’re likely to be convenience stores, often working in partnership with big consumer brands like Costa Coffee or Marks & Spencer.

These petrol station owners embraced the retail sector, enticing other retailers with their own position as a convenience centre offering long opening hours. They used petrol as a loss leader to drive traffic onto the forecourt and into their new retail sections, creating profit from the sale of goods and complementary services.

So how can independent pharmacy learn from this and implement beneficial change? Right now most of our income is from prescribed medication. This gives us tremendous social capital.

We are trusted healthcare professionals. We are able to provide a high level of healthcare knowledge. And all this is accessible to anyone without an appointment and free of charge.

Independent pharmacies can convert their existing traffic in a similar way to increase sales. By putting our inherent social capital to good use promoting products and services that make a difference to the quality of life of our patients and the public at large, we can deliver real benefit.

So here’s the big question: are we prepared to redesign our business proposition?

Do we want to provide valuable products and services to patients and other customers as a result of capitalising on the traffic driven into our business by our medicines supply service? Our supply function may not be profitable in itself, but the linked sales and professional services that can be annexed to it can be structured to generate additional income. This would in turn compensate for any reduction in profitability from the original supply function.

Ground control to pharmacy

My idea is nothing to do with Major Tim Peake and it isn’t rocket science either! Yes, it does require certain skills, knowledge and support that has for years been afforded to our corporate cousins Boots and Lloyds.

However, it wouldn’t be difficult to achieve for independent pharmacy. In fact, our
big brothers the independent GPs recently outlined their future NHS independent contractor vision at the Health Plus Care Commissioning Show: corporatisation.

Long live the NHS thirst for new buzz- words! Corporatisation is the act of reorganising the structure of a government- owned entity into a legal entity with the corporate structure found in publicly trading companies, usually with a board of directors, management and shareholders.

In other words, it’s a new company formed from existing government entities – in this case GPs – with each practice becoming a partner in a ‘super practice’. Resources, best practice and a complete back office function are all shared to create economies of scale, with each site as a separate cost and profit centre.

Don’t be foolish

There is absolutely no reason why independent pharmacies shouldn’t operate in the same way. In fact, I’d go as far as to say we would be foolish not to.

We would generate huge benefit from cost sharing and it would allow us to sell quality products and services across the entire health and social care horizon. Integration into the social fabric of our local communities would enable us to provide for patients and the public not only via medicines supply but also social and secondary care.

The smartest move for independent pharmacy is to now adhere to a model of collective working to share the costs of provision of essential health and social care products. The addition of exceptional customer service with a suitable trained workforce would create a commercial opportunity of unprecedented proportion for independent pharmacy.

Let’s all take a moment this summer to consider opportunities for total control of our future.

If you’re interested in becoming a partner in a new independent pharmacy solution, email me your thoughts and ideas at mukesh@prescriptive.co.uk.

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