With new research showing that pharmacists could save the NHS millions and improve care for infants with reflux, colic and constipation, Bhupinder Malhi shares how he set up a successful infant feeding clinic.
As the NHS turns 70, we are seeing a seismic shift in the roles of healthcare professionals. The management of some more common ailments and conditions are being taken out of the clinical setting, helping to reduce costs and make services more sustainable. However, there is still a lot more that can be done to support the NHS and this is where pharmacists can make a real difference. From my experience this is especially relevant in the infant health category.
A recent BMJ Open study showed that in England alone, at least £72.3million per year (including £49.1million by the NHS) is spent on infant functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, including reflux, colic and constipation.
I believe that this cost can be greatly reduced, saving the NHS millions in unnecessary GP consultations and prescriptions, practically overnight, by making sure community pharmacists become the first port of call for concerned parents to provide support, reassurance and appropriate nutritional advice.
The business opportunity
Apart from helping the NHS save millions by optimising the care of infants with reflux, colic and constipation, there is actually a wider business opportunity for community pharmacists. I regularly support anxious parents of infants with a functional GI disorder. Although these conditions are common – affecting around 50% of infants before they are six months old, and are often a consequence of an infant’s maturing gut – they can be very distressing for both the parents and the infant.
This often leads to increased medical consultations, over-prescribing and use of over-the-counter medication to manage conditions such as colic, which have little or no proven effect.
According to a new expert review of guidelines published in Acta Paediatrica, parental reassurance and nutritional advice should be the cornerstone of managing these conditions and, with the exception of functional constipation, medication is seldom required.
I firmly believe that pharmacists can be the ‘go-to’ for anxious parents. They can provide effective reassurance, offer appropriate nutritional advice and practical tips, and where required, refer them on to a GP for further medical advice.
You may ask how this would improve your business. I recognised the real potential in increasing the range of services I provide to parents and made the decision to develop a business plan to create a form of “common infant feeding problems clinic”.
My plan entailed providing a range of management solutions, to attract new customers and extend the offering to parents within the infant category, making us stand out from other local pharmacies. I have since seen our category sales increase three-fold.
Developing the business plan
When developing the business plan, I would recommend introducing a strategy to help your team provide a wide range of management solutions and advice to help build rapport and trust with the parents, who will then make repeat visits to fulfil their infants’ and wider family needs.
Key to this strategy is to ensure your team has the best training possible, both in terms of knowledge and consultation skills, in order to maximise the opportunities and touchpoints with parents in the pharmacy. l
Bhupinder Malhi is a community pharmacist and director of Hill Top Pharmacy in Sandwell, West Midlands.