Stephen Dickson, owner and superintendent pharmacist at the Dickson Chemist group of pharmacies, tells Saša Janković why he has invested in the first community hyperbaric oxygen chamber in Central Scotland.

Service type: Hyperbaric oxygen

Name and location of pharmacy: Dickson Chemist pharmacy and head office, Rutherglen, Glasgow

Name of superintendent pharmacist: Stephen Dickson

When did you start offering this service? November 2021

Why did you start offering this service?

We are always looking for new services that can help our patients, and one of the things we discovered was that while there are charitable services offering hyperbaric oxygen treatment for patients living with MS, or people with ‘the bends’, there is almost nobody in the UK offering accessible, local hyperbaric oxygen for general wellness.

This wasn’t really something we had thought about before but people were telling us it was great for general health, and there is anecdotal evidence from America that hyperbaric oxygen is useful to promote healing and reduce inflammation. Plus in a post-Covid world with so many people with long Covid and breathing difficulties we were definitely interested in what else could help.

How much did it cost to set up the service?

After about 8 months’ research we decided to go for it, and have installed a chamber in one of the consultation rooms in our Rutherglen pharmacy. We chose a single person lie-down version, which is just a bit bigger than a medical bed and automatically sterilises itself after it has been used.

It’s a huge financial investment for the equipment and installation, and we will have ongoing costs for electricity, and monitoring and support of the patient. We think it could take us 2-3 years for the machine to pay us back, but after that we believe it has the potential to be very profitable in the long term.

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

There’s been a lot of training, including an 8-hour module for our pharmacists, but we’ve learned all sorts we didn’t know before.

For example, of all the therapies you can use in a holistic way, studies show only this can increase the length of your telomeres – part of your DNA which shortens if you have disease, potentially decreasing your life span. Research on long Covid patients in the US has shown they have suffered a big attack on their telomeres, so anything that can extend these is good.

People are also using hyperbaric oxygen to treat neurodegenerative diseases across the world, but not so much in the UK because of our regulatory restrictions. The NHS does, however, use it for patients with leg ulcers that aren’t healing.

In a nutshell, what does the service involve?

We have a full time physiotherapist in our Rutherglen pharmacy head office in Glasgow, and they will be using it to promote healing of sports injuries, plus we will be accepting referrals from other physiotherapists, GPs, beauty therapists, and other agencies including the NHS.

When patients come to us there will be a consultation process so we can gather evidence that it might benefit them, and we will stress that we are using the chamber in a wellness way, not as a ‘medicine’. We are not advertising it as a treatment for long Covid either, as that would be making a medical claim which we cannot do, but making access available in the community will enable us to see if any of our patients with long Covid who want to try it will benefit.

How much do you charge for the service?

Patients typically use hyperbaric chambers once or twice a month, with the session length and cost depending on their need. Sessions start at half an hour for £40.

Would you recommend offering this service to other contractors?

Yes, as it’s a great example of working in a multidisciplinary way to promote pharmacy to totally new patient groups. There is no one doing this in pharmacy in the UK, and for general wellness there are very few hyperbaric chambers you can access in the central belt of Scotland. If we get this registered with Healthcare Improvement Scotland we will look at using it for medical treatments, and then can accept medical referrals. We will also look to develop training in the future for other pharmacists who want to do it, as it’s definitely a useful extra tool in our service arsenal.

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