Nicholas Gompels, pharmacist and owner of D&M Gompels Pharmacy in Melksham, Wiltshire, talks to Saša Janković about setting up a continence service.

Service type: Continence service

Name and location of pharmacy: D&M Gompels Pharmacy, Melksham, Wiltshire

Name of pharmacist: Nicholas Gompels

When did you start offering this service?

In the 1990s when disposable diapers for children took off and then companies diversified into adult care as well.

Why did you start offering this service?

We started stocking mobility equipment, and this was a complementary range. We saw there was a gap between what was provided by social care and what people needed, so we targeted people who wanted to be privately independent and those who needed top ups.

How much did it cost to set up the service?

As with many services, the biggest cost was time: finding sources of supply, rearranging the pharmacy and getting some marketing going. It’s a long time ago now, but the whole lot was under £1,000.

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

Initially, I just did some reading on the different types of incontinence and blended that with manufacturers’ product information on the pads/diapers. This was passed on to the counter team who then got behind the project and a couple of them specialised in continence advice.

Later on, we developed links with the local continence unit in Bath and some of our staff undertook some training there. That increased their knowledge on when to suggest patients may benefit from seeking more professional help. It also allayed their fears that we were out to sell products that may not be appropriate.

In a nutshell, what does the service involve?

Many pharmacies and outlets now sell continence products, but not so many give advice with it. We put it in a discreet part of the shop and made sure that we talk and demonstrate them to people. Quite often they come in with an idea, but not understanding the full range or how to use different products.

We always give samples of other products, so that they can try different things. For example, people always found it difficult to transition from light stress incontinence products to the more absorbent night time pads that need holding in place with net pants, or even the adult nappies. Used at the right time, in the right way, the larger pads give a better quality of life/sleep and are more cost effective than having spills and frequent changes of small pads.

We also give out literature and self-help booklets on continence advice to reinforce what we have said and for people to read in their own time.

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

Direct link selling was not really appropriate or needed to increase our business, but we found that satisfied customers were appreciative and came back to us time after time.

How have patients responded to the service?

Patients are very appreciative, and it is a fantastic feeling to have someone come in very uncertain about what they are asking for, but going away better-informed feeling that they have solutions to try. We encourage them to let us know how they get on. They then come back time after time for repeat supplies; or their temporary incontinence is resolved and we don’t see them again for a while.

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

We are busy every day as continence care accounts for 25% of our counter turnover; mobility products account for another 25%. As the service is very well established by us in Melksham, which has a limited population of about 24,000 people, we now have about 10 new ‘consults’ per month, but lots of ongoing ones.

How much do you charge for the service?

The advice is free to the patient - it's funded by the sale of products. Having said that, I have always found that the best way to sell something is to be completely honest and open with people. These are products which people find it hard to get clear, impartial advice on so really appreciate it when they do. When I have recommended NOT to buy something, it has nearly always resulted in more sales down the line.

Roughly how much a month do you make from offering the service?

It always amuses me that we make as much from this as we do from selling fine fragrance, which also accounts for about 25% of counter turnover. You may have worked out that we have now reached 75% of turnover, which leaves only 25% left for sales of medicines. It is very nice to have the diversity which gives us more consistency throughout the year and the ups and downs.

Would you recommend offering this service to other contractors?

Absolutely, but we are now also developing other areas such as travel, health checks, microsuction and many more. We need to fill the void left by reduced dispensing income.