Pharmacy business consultant Sanjay Patel tells Léa Legraien how he helps pharmacy groups grow their businesses in spite of the Government’s funding cuts.

How can pharmacists grow their businesses? 

The way to grow a pharmacy business is through loyalty and by growing and introducing new services.

You don’t need to cut the staff. By cutting staff, you’re making the business harder to run, more complicated, introducing more workload and losses and the returns will be lower.

You need to increase volume, which can be prescription volume and services, and improve margins.

It’s important to know what volumes you're doing on services on a daily or weekly basis.

What opportunities have you found for your clients?

The biggest opportunity is to look at how they claim their payments, as many of them struggle with reconciling their payments. So much is missed and lost in every pharmacy especially through Electronic Prescription Service (EPS).

Secondly, many of my clients probably haven’t had the expertise or training on how to develop and grow [their employees] so we spend a lot of time on that.

Finally, they haven’t had the training on how to set up and maximise services. Most service training only teaches the clinical skills and Government’s requirements.

Most of my clients weren’t taught how to increase volume or services. Contractors get taught the clinical part of the service but not how to train the staff on how to engage with customers, how to build a relationship with the GP, how to promote services in the pharmacy and outside the pharmacy and how to measure and track how the pharmacy is doing.

Should pharmacists have business managerial skills then?

Absolutely. Most of the pharmacists I work with have learnt the skills of running the business by going along.

Very few have a formal training and often, if they have, it’s too generic and not pharmacy focused.

If they could get pharmacy business training, it would definitely pay dividends to their business and works much better.

What is the success of a pharmacy based on?

Location, NHS funding and how good the people are.

I think the first two are primarily out of your control and you can’t do much about it.

However, what you can do is review, adapt and grow your business by having a strong business plan and developing your people.

Automatically, the success of a business comes down to the leader of the business and how well the people are developed.

How have the funding cuts affected your clients?

Initially, my clients were affected in the same way as other pharmacists.

But as I’ve been working with some of my clients for nearly two years now, we’ve managed to change their businesses, improve their services and people and reduce their losses.

In most cases, my clients are earning about the same as they were before the cuts. They’ve had to work harder to achieve that and invest in their people, services and sometimes pharmacies.

How did they cope with the cuts?

We’re looking at how they develop their staff, how they grow their prescription volumes and loyalty and, mostly, making sure they maximise their services, including meeting the quality payments scheme (QPS) criteria and introducing new opportunities.

None of my clients cut staff. Instead, they reviewed their staffing profiles, reorganised the staff and, in some cases, even took on more staff.

They’re not resting on their laurels, hoping that the Government will give them more money. They’re adapting.

Are your clients confident about the future? 

All my clients are worried about the future because they don’t know what will happen next.

We don’t know what the payment terms are going to be in April, if there will be another QPS next year and new services or if some of the existing ones will be cut.

How are community pharmacies supposed to plan for their businesses and staffing if the Government won’t tell us what we’re going to get paid in April?

It’s a really poor way for the Government to operate. It’s no wonder many parts of healthcare don’t work if the Government doesn’t allow people to plan ahead.

What is your advice to pharmacists?

The biggest risk is not to take any risks. They’ve got to think more of the future and let go of the past.

Pharmacy is still a strong business. There’s potential to be successful in it. You’ve got to be prepared and adapt, reach out and get some help. People who are adapting will succeed.

Prescription volume is going up and somebody’s got to dispense all of these medicines and provide that care.

Sanjay Patel is a pharmacy business consultant and a pharmacist.

You can email him at [email protected]