Anand Shah, superintendent pharmacist and owner of Cotham Pharmacy in Bristol, talks to Saša Janković about running a travel clinic and Covid testing service.

Service type: Travel clinic and covid antigen testing

Name and location of pharmacy: Cotham Pharmacy, Bristol

Name of superintendent pharmacist: Anand Shah

When did you start offering this service?

Since 2015.

Why did you start offering this service?

When I took over the pharmacy in 2015 it offered a travel clinic run by a private supplier. We continued with that for a while, but pricing wise I knew that if we could do this independently ourselves we could offer better value to our customers. In 2019 I decided to do some training to upskill myself, got all the necessary PGDs, and launched our own independent travel clinic, which has evolved to include Covid antigen testing and certification for travellers.

How much did it cost to set up the service?

We have to apply to the Government to do the Covid antigen lateral flow testing and certification, and there is a fee to pay to be accredited for that.

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

Over the years I have done all the necessary injection training, which is useful for the travel clinic.

In a nutshell, what does the service involve?

We offer all the usual travel clinic services, but of course these went pretty quiet during the pandemic. As travel picked up again in recent months I looked into adding Covid testing but I was a bit sceptical at first because if someone tests positive it would have meant I’d have to shut the pharmacy for us all to self-isolate. However, in the end we got so many enquiries, and our competitors were doing it, so as the nationwide vaccination schedule started running I decided to offer Covid 19 fit-to-travel tests, using PharmaDoctor to handle all the paperwork.

We are one of only a few testing centres in our area who offer the antigen testing for travel, rather than the PCR tests which are more expensive and take longer to get results back from. We do these as an in-clinic service rather than something the customers can take home and do for themselves, because as trained healthcare professionals if we carry out the swab tests we know there will be no issues with user error, and then we are able to issue their fit-to-travel certificate.

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

At one point prior to Covid we were selling small travel kits with paracetamol, antihistamines, rehydration products and other basics people may need for medical emergencies on travel. We also advise on malaria prophylaxis and prevention, so we sell sprays, plug-ins and physical barrier products to prevent being bitten.

How have patients responded to the service?

We get patients coming to us from all over Bristol because our pricing is really competitive and I leave my diary quite open so I can make sure I have lots of slots available for people who want to book in at the last minute. This has helped make us a popular destination for travel vaccines, and we are also busy doing chickenpox vaccines for children, which has started to pick up again in our area. There are lots of young professionals here who can afford to pay for this and don’t want take the time off work to look after their children if they catch chickenpox.

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

At busy times we can see 40-50 people a week in the travel clinic.

How much do you charge for the service?

A lot of clinics charge consultation fees but we don’t because we offer 20-minute appointment slots and can easily start the course of vaccinations at that point rather than asking the customer to come back another time. The price depends on the vaccinations that people have, but we charge £60 for the lateral flow test and certification service.

Would you recommend offering this service to other contractors?

Definitely. Lots of GP surgeries are stopping travel vaccinations as these are not classed as an essential NHS service anymore, so there is scope for pharmacy to step in here as customers trust us as healthcare professionals who can provide the best advice.

The way the NHS is going, with funding cut backs, it is a lot harder for pharmacies to increase their revenue just through NHS services and we have to work much harder for what we earn, so private services are the way forward if you want to survive in pharmacy, and they give us a whole new level of visibility with our customers.