Gary Choo, head of Information Services at Numark, answers readers’ questions about cost management, and explains how to avoid common pitfalls

Q: We’ve received our FP34s and can see the actual reduction in NHS payments we face. It’s not looking good – should we look at reducing staff levels?
A: It’s good to think of ways of combating the shortfall of funds, and staffing is understandably one of the major expenses for any business. However, you need to think carefully about how reducing staff will impact your ability to maintain, or perhaps even improve on, current service levels. While funding support has significantly decreased, work pressure has not and will not. Will your business be able to cope with fewer staff? It is also important to consider how reducing staff will impact the remaining members of your team. Having a smaller, but potentially overworked, multi-tasking team can have serious implications on the dispensing process, as well as services such as MURs and, most importantly, patient safety.

Q: It might be impossible for us to sustain our current workforce. Cutting staff seems to be the only option. What’s the best way to do this?
A: If reducing staff levels cannot be avoided, you should think about maximising staff resources during times of need – in other words, planning ahead. This doesn’t necessarily mean arranging cover for peak periods, but instead ensuring that your existing staff work better together when times are busy. During these restrictive times, staff need to be working smartly and efficiently. For instance, do you need two members of staff to manage the counter all day? Could they be trained to support each other by one of them dedicating a block of their time to ensuring that the front shop is running smoothly? It might also be worth investing some time in reviewing current skill sets, job descriptions and work patterns and then really assessing how they match up with the needs of your business and, of course, your patients. Do keep in mind that you will have to observe the regulations of the employment laws in order to make any changes.

Q: Are there other areas we can look at to achieve additional cost savings?
A: Have a think about adapting some of the additional services you provide, or are considering providing, to your patients. Free delivery is one example. Free delivery of medication offers great convenience to patients, especially those for whom it might be diffi cult to visit the pharmacy physically. However, for the pharmacy, delivery translates into a huge cost. Could there be a way for you to have a set of criteria against which certain patients would qualify for free delivery? This would ensure that patients who really need medication delivered to them are catered for in a more manageable way for your business. Another way of thinking about reducing costs is to look at maintaining or even increasing your margins. In the process, revisit day-to-day running costs and stock, but also look at buying more efficiently. At Numark, for example, we work with independent community pharmacies day in, day out to provide generics, directto- pharmacy (DTP) distribution schemes, enhanced discounts and computer-based decision buying programmes. All of these can help you not only to maintain a consistent margin, but also to save time – the time you need to run your business effectively. When taking advantage of the support that Numark has to offer, the average Numark member can save up to £24,000 a year.

Q: Should we be looking at new sources of business with the climate the way it is?
A: Definitely. The current climate compels independents to look to new sources of business. Think about private health services like travel clinics, vaccination services and PGD-based dispensing. Look at the local business scene around you. Could you target nearby SMEs to offer private services to their employees? These could range from blood pressure testing and healthy heart services to private flu vaccinations. Admittedly, it is a difficult time to consider providing additional services. However, the long-term benefits of doing so can really determine how successfully your business performs in the face of this crisis.

Do you have a question for the experts at Numark? Get in touch with us by emailing or tweet your questions to @NumarkNet


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