Iftikhar Gulfraz, superintendent pharmacist at Eye Pharmacy with branches in Mirfield and Ravensthorpe, talks to Saša Janković about running joint pharmacy and optician stores.

Service type: Pharmacy with on-site optician

Name and location of pharmacy: Eye Pharmacy, Mirfield and Ravensthorpe, West Yorkshire

Name of superintendent pharmacist: Iftikhar Gulfraz

When did you start offering this service?

We opened the Ravensthorpe branch of Eye Pharmacy in 2009, and the Mirfield site six years later.

Why did you start offering this service?

We were opening a 100-hour pharmacy and one of my directors is an optician, so we decided to add in the optician service from day one.

How much did it cost to set up the service?

There was an extra cost because it’s a dual site, so we had to buy optician plus pharmacy equipment for the combined businesses.

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

We have two to three opticians at the moment who are obviously all trained, but we have trained their counter staff to work in the pharmacy and our pharmacy staff to work on their counter where needed. For example, any of our staff can book patients in for an optician appointment even if the optician side isn’t open at the time, as the pharmacy is open 100 hours a week.

In a nutshell, what does the service involve?

Customers can make appointments with us the same as they would with a ‘normal’ optician. We also get referrals in from GP surgeries in both areas, since doctors don't see people with eye issues so they know they can tell the patient to ring us and we will squeeze them in somewhere, and we can send them back if we need to.

We see a lot of patients with conjunctivitis, hayfever and allergies in the pharmacy, but if there is any danger symptoms like pain in the eye, or they are a contact lens wearer, we refer them to our optician department.

In our area we are part of the Primary Eyecare and Assessment Referral Service (PEARS) which means people don't have to pay for an emergency eye appointment, so there is no financial constraint stopping the patient from seeing an optician. If there is a problem, we can also refer them direct to the local hospital when we need to.

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

There is cross-over from pharmacy to optician, as mentioned. I’ve also been trained to do basic repairs on glasses, and customers can collect their finished glasses or lenses from us at any time of the day that we are open.

How have patients responded to the service?

They love it because we can capture customers on both sides of the business. If they have eye pain, sticky eyes or allergy people would generally go to a pharmacy first, and only really go to an optician for an eye test, so we can help people in both directions.

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

We see a couple of people a day in the pharmacy that we refer in to our optician, but we also get passing trade to the optician when people realise we do late appointments on a Thursday evening, and they can book in the night before for the next day as the pharmacy is open so many hours a week.

How much do you charge for the service?

PEARS is for acute eye problems, not vision loss, and that is free for the patient. A general private eye test is normally £25 but if the customer then buys glasses from us we reduce the price of them, and we also do NHS eye tests.

Would you recommend offering this service to other contractors?

What we do is very niche but I’m a believer that pharmacists can do anything as an add-on and there are so many options, from podiatry and ear wax removal. Think outside the box and try to cover as many patient bases as you can where it is appropriate.

I've had to take an interest in the optical side so I can talk to patients and help them in another way. It’s a great learning curve, but it’s good for my brain, and good for my business not to just to do pharmacy stuff all the time.