Sehul Patel, owner and superintendent pharmacist at Coopers Pharmacy in Sutton, Surrey, talks to Saša Janković about maximising his travel health clinic.

Service type: Travel clinic

Name and location of pharmacy: Coopers Pharmacy, Sutton, Surrey

Name of superintendent pharmacist: Sehul Patel

Why did you start offering this service?

I set up this service in the first place, in 2012, as an extra source of income as it wasn’t a service that was widely offered in my area at the time. So I thought it would be a good way of tapping into a market which was not well served. Now it is more common, but because I built up a client base over the years people come back for their boosters and I get a lot of referrals via word of mouth and from a lot of local surgeries.

I even get customers coming from east London – which is a surprise that people will travel that far considering how many travel clinics there must be on the way from there to me – but I put it down to the fact that I started earlier than a lot of other places and have built up a good reputation for the service in that time.

How much did it cost to set up the service?

The initial cost is about £300 for the PGDs, with training on top.

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

When I first started, I had to learn vaccination technique, but now because we do flu jabs that gets updated every two years anyway. We need to do the anaphylaxis and CPR training every couple years, renew our PDGs, and some CPD just to make sure we are up to date with what the different vaccines are for and how often they should be given.

We are also a yellow fever vaccination centre, so we need to do the NaTHNaC training every two years, online, as well.

In a nutshell, what does the service involve?

We offer the full PGD travel vaccination service, and unlike some other companies I do walk-ins as well as appointments. This can involve some careful planning for travellers who are going away for a long trip and need multiple jabs, and we work with them in advance to create a schedule that fits in around their availability before they go.

We also have a PGD for ethoxzolamide, which is licensed for eye pressure, but we can supply via the PGD for altitude sickness.

During the pandemic, customers for our travel clinic dropped to virtually zero - we did do a couple of vaccinations a month, but that was more for occupational health than from traveling. I was able to pivot to offer Covid antigen testing in house, as well as Covid PCR testing using the London Medical Laboratory service, and I’m still doing those now.

Are there any opportunities to sell OTC or prescription products during or after the consultation?

There’s always a chance to link sales with travel goods such as insect repellent sprays, upset stomach products, antihistamines, and creams for bites, and people going on long backpacking trips often want to buy a complete first aid kit.

How have patients responded to the service?

Word of mouth and surgeries’ referrals work really well for us, and we know that customers like the service as they keep coming back – even from the other side of London.

It helps that we are a yellow fever centre as there are still not many around, so customers tend to think that if they are coming here for that they might as well get everything else from us too.

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

I must have seen about 200 people in July 2022 – and I do have a second pharmacist, which helps.

I also have a contract with a local engineering company which sends a lot of employees to far-flung places, so staff come and get their travel vaccinations and malaria tablets from me and I charge the company directly. This came about because I noticed that a lot of their employees were coming in for jabs and asking me for receipts to claim back the cost from the company. So, I went to see their HR department to ask if they wanted to set up something, which is great for us, and also for them. I do their flu vaccinations now as well, and I have another contract with a local special educational needs school for hepatitis B vaccines, as their staff can be at risk of bites from the pupils.

How much do you charge for the service?

It depends on the vaccine, but I don’t charge a consultation fee.

Would you recommend offering this service to other contractors?

It’s a difficult one now, as so many other places offer a travel health service, but if you are in the right location and don’t have anyone else nearby doing it then yes, 100% go for it.