Pharmacist Bipin Patel, owner of Broadway Pharmacy in Bexleyheath, tells Saša Janković how offering an EHC service can encourage long-lasting customer loyalty.

Service type: EHC service

Name and location of pharmacy: Broadway Pharmacy, Bexleyheath

Name of pharmacist: Bipin Patel

When did you start offering this service? At least 15 years ago, pretty much when the local CCG first launched it.

Why did you start offering this service?

I know some colleagues in other pharmacies are not comfortable offering an EHC service, but I believe it’s useful because it’s a way of engaging with a different age group, and if you think about it they are all your future customers. It might be EHC now, but they’ll come back for other services from time to time as they grow up and become mums. If they are familiar with you they are more likely to come back to your pharmacy rather than going elsewhere, as long as you long look after them.

In a nutshell, what does the service involve?

Most of our patients come to us via word of mouth, because young people talk to each other and often even come in with their friends.

When customers ask for the morning after pill our assistants are trained to tell them it requires a consultation. I will then see the customer in the consultation room, go through the screening questions, give advice, and signpost them to further services if necessary. We also provide a chlamydia and gonorrhoea kit if they want one, and emphasise the importance of screening themselves once a year. Next I give them with the medication, and use PharmOutcomes to record our information. Our service level agreement means the medication has to be consumed on the premises rather than taken away with them. I’ll warn them of the side effects and explain that if they are sick within three hours to come back and I will repeat the supply.

We didn’t do any marketing for the service for the first few years – partly because it wasn’t readily accepted in our community as a service for the teenage population at first so we didn’t feel we should shout about it in the window. However, in the last few years it has become more commonplace, so we have information about it on our website, local teenage services link to us, and the CCG promotes it too.

What, if any, training did you or other team members have to undergo?

The first training we did was organised by our commissioners when they launched the EHC service. Once we had done that I think there was a CPPE module, then we were accredited to provide the service, and I’ve trained counter staff on how to manage the communication with customers in a diplomatic and sympathetic way. Some of our customers are quite distressed when they come in, but we are not here to judge them, just to provide the service.

Are there any opportunities to sell over the counter or prescription products during the consultation or after it?

We don’t link anything with this specific service as it is a free service on the NHS, and I don’t think it is appropriate to try and sell anything else as these customers are here for only one thing.

How have patients responded to the service?

You don’t get a lot of feedback but we do see some customers who come in for repeat purchases again and again. In a sense, I suppose this is an endorsement for the service because they wouldn’t come back if they didn’t feel comfortable or looked after.

Roughly how often each month do you carry out the service?

We do maybe 20-30 a month, although only about half a dozen in the pandemic. We’ve also encouraged more pharmacists to do it locally, which almost certainly means we’ve ended up doing less ourselves, but the most important thing here is about improving access.

How much do you charge for the service?

It’s free for the customer.

Roughly how much a month do you make from offering the service?

We get paid for the cost of the medication and it’s about £10 for the consultation, so maybe £15 in total for each. But that’s not the point for us – our philosophy is that we need to create our pharmacy as a point of call for clinical services, so people think of coming to us for all kinds of things.

Would you recommend offering this service to other contractors?

Yes of course, but it depends if it’s the kind of service you are happy to do. It makes a difference to people’s lives and you get a lot of job satisfaction from that as a pharmacist. I’d say that about any service out there: if you feel comfortable providing it then you should supply it.

We've also spoken to Helen Whittaker, a support pharmacist at The Pharmacy Galleria in Pensnett, Dudley, about running an emergency hormonal contraception service.