Rachel Carter interviews Jack Lewis about Mayberry Pharmacy's weight loss service

Name of pharmacy: Mayberry Pharmacy, Blackwood.

Name of pharmacist: Jack Lewis.

How long have you been offering this service? Since 2018.

Why did you start offering the service? We started offering the service after a chat with the company that provides it, New Weigh Management. In my opinion as a pharmacist, the service seemed like a sustainable way to lose weight. It was encouraging exercise and healthy eating, but also supplementing some meals, so we decided to try it.

How much did it cost to set up the service? There were no start-up costs other than purchasing the stock. The service includes meal replacement sachets and bars, which retail at £13.50 and £11.25 respectively, but we paid trade price for those.

What, if any, training did you or other team members have to undergo? I completed an online e-learning, which was a series of slides that talked you through the two main diets a patient could follow, how they worked, the nutritional elements, how to counsel the patients, what kind of effects they might experience at first, and how to manage them through that process.

The sales representative for the service also shared some good practice from other pharmacies with myself and the counter staff.

In a nutshell, what does the service involve? We would firstly talk to the patient about what their aims and objectives are. This includes how quickly they want to lose weight, what they are willing to do and how they want to do it. We would then talk them though the service, which involves the provision of meal replacement sachets and bars. There are two diets the patient can follow: total or partial meal replacement.

The partial diet involves replacing two out of three meals a day. We normally recommend the sachet for breakfast, which is mixed with a liquid, a bar for lunch - the bars are not like a breakfast bar, they are designed to fill you up like a full meal - and then a normal healthy meal in the evening. For the total replacement diet, all three meals are replaced with the bars or sachets.

If a patient wants to participate, we would then sign them up for the service  and the idea is we continue to see them on a weekly basis. Some people have preferred to take a number of weeks’ worth of products and come in every few weeks. But for the total diet replacement option it’s good to monitor patients once a week. This allows us to see how they are getting on, if they are having any side effects, and weigh them to see what they’ve lost. We always try and provide advice on healthy eating and exercise too.

The length of our involvement depends on the patient. If a patient is extremely keen to carry on then we would continue to meet with them. It usually comes to an end when a patient is happy with the weight they’ve reached and want to swap back to healthy meals. Or, if the patient decides they don’t want to continue with the service for whatever reason. That is the biggest problem we’ve faced - people do well in the beginning but when things start to plateau they tend to fall off the wagon and it can be hard to keep them motivated.

Are there any opportunities to sell over the counter or prescription products during the consultation or after it? The products count as an over the counter sale, but we wouldn’t recommend anything else. The only signposting we do would be to local exercise classes or encouraging patients to start their own exercise regime.

How have patients responded to the service? I thought lots of patients would buy into it and as soon as word of mouth spread, it would be a big service for us. But unfortunately - whether it was due to people not wanting to have sachets all the time or other reasons - patients didn’t really stick with it.

We’ve definitely had some success stories though. There was a lady who we were supporting through our smoking cessation service, who was worried about putting on weight as a result of quitting smoking. I initiated her onto the weight loss service and it worked really well for her, she lost a lot of weight and stopped smoking. We also had two staff members do the partial replacement diet for a number of months and it worked well for them.

Roughly how often each month do you carry out the service? In the time we’ve been offering the service, I would say we’ve seen two patients per month. There were lots of people who started the partial diet replacement, but we’ve only had one person opt for total diet replacement.

How much do you charge for the service? The consultation is free, there is just a charge for the products. It costs the patient £25 per week for the partial diet replacement, and £46 for the full.

Roughly how much a month do you make from offering the service? Figures not available.

Would you recommend offering this service to other contractors? Yes, definitely. If I’m being totally honest, as a pharmacist I much prefer giving weight loss advice through medicine reviews. We obviously get paid for those reviews, but they also provide a safe environment in which to give advice and encourage weight loss if that’s something patients need.

However, if the pharmacy and the contractor have got the footfall and have a patient need for it in their area, then it is definitely a really good service. It’s just getting patients to sign up for it, that was the only problem for us.