Raj Rohilla, director and superintendent pharmacist at Midhurst Pharmacy in West Sussex, tells Saša Janković how the pandemic led to him setting up a blood pressure testing service.

Service type: Blood pressure testing.

Name of pharmacy: Midhurst Pharmacy, Midhurst.

Name of superintendent pharmacist: Raj Rohilla.

Why did you start offering this service?

I started offering the service this year, during the pandemic. Healthcare gaps have clearly arisen because GP surgeries have not been doing certain things during the pandemic. I noticed that blood pressure testing – which was really low in our priorities before Covid – has become a bit of a Catch 22 situation now. Lots of surgeries won’t provide prescriptions for things like oral contraceptives, blood pressure tablets or HRT without the patient having a blood pressure test, and yet not all surgeries are offering these tests right now – which is a real unmet need that pharmacy can fill.

How much did it cost to set up the service?

We sell the machines for £20, which is a vastly reduced cost so our profit element is quite low, but it’s a good, reliable machine and GP surgeries are happy to accept the results.

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

Nothing in particular, but I would say you have to get all members of staff on board if you are doing something like this. Ours have been brilliant – assistants and dispensers – and indeed I think in general they are not given enough credit. Particularly at the moment, they have adapted so quickly and never complained.

In a nutshell, what does the service involve?

We came up with two variations to help our customers. The first is to offer straightforward blood pressure testing, although at the moment this needs to be done in a totally different than what everyone is used to. Because of the contact time with the patient I have to don full PPE, so I tend to schedule the appointments for this at the end of the day in one block.

If customers would rather not come in to have their bp checked, the other option we have is for them to buy their own blood pressure monitor from us. We did a bulk order for a batch of good quality, reliable bp testing machines and the GP surgeries are happy to refer patients to us for these, and for our on-site test.

We are the only pharmacy in maybe a ten-mile radius that is doing these tests or selling these machines, so we are definitely getting new customers through the door because of it.

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

As well as selling the blood pressure testing machines, this time has given us the opportunity to think about what else we can offer our customers to help them look after their health during the pandemic, and beyond.

If you think about when you go to see your doctor, for the first two minutes of any appointment they are on their computer ticking off all the QOF points they can muster before they even start talking to you. I think that’s what pharmacy should be doing: tick off all the service available in your area and revisit them. For example, after doing flu jabs can be an opportune time to go through the alcohol scratch card screening with a customer, which makes it more of a holistic interaction and reminds them that there is so much we can do for them in pharmacy.

How have patients responded to the service?

Customers are happy, especially as the GP surgeries are happy to accept results from the home testing kits we sell. I did have to spend quite a bit of time with one elderly customer who couldn’t come in, who had bought the machine and couldn’t use it, but I spoke to her over the phone and luckily there was a YouTube video she was able to watch and she was able to do it herself after that.

How much do you charge for the service?

We charge £10 for the appointment-only blood pressure test, which seems like a lot but we incur costs with the PPE plus it takes a lot longer than usual as we have do it in a secure way with minimal contact.

Would you recommend offering this service to other contractors?

Offering services such as blood pressure testing is what’s going to make independent community pharmacy more successful, because what it’s doing is introducing us to new patients who then sign up with us, which is the key at the end of day.

This is where independents are winning because we can make a decision one day and implement it that afternoon – we don’t have to go to head office, get an ok and roll out an idea to a whole group. This is definitely going to be our way forward – not just doing one service on its own, but linking in other services every time we see patients.

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