The inaugural Pharmacy Forward conference was a one-day national event for community pharmacy owners and their teams, which took place in the London Olympia on 2 July. Attendees were given the chance to ensure their pharmacy is profitable and efficient by coming together with peers and experts to create new ideas from survival to innovation.

  1. ‘Pharmacy must transform to survive’

The day opened with a keynote address from NHS Confederation chair and former health secretary, Stephen Dorrell, who challenged the delegates to see their patients more as citizens.

Primary care should not necessarily mean clinical care but overall personal care for everyone, he said. ‘We should support all citizens to lead more full lives, rather than simply treat patients for illnesses.’

Community pharmacy should be claiming its own leadership role in primary care, he said, and not limiting itself. It is 'nonsense' that to many, primary care means GPs – pharmacy should be the first point of call. ‘I don't deny that pharmacists' clinical skills have not been used to the fullest in the health and care sector over the years,’ Mr Dorrell told the conference. ‘And it’s time that they are.’

'The purpose of what we do is not to save money for hospitals but allow all citizens to live enjoyable, independent lives,' he said. Pharmacies should provide overall care including mental health and general wellbeing.

RPS England board member, Ash Soni, who gave the opening welcome to Pharmacy Forward, agreed, ‘We need a national health service not a national illness service,’ he said.

‘Change is the only constant in pharmacy and we need to get ahead.’

  1. How to increase your profits

‘Dentists would have shut down if they didn't offer private services. The pharmacy sector must do the same,’ Nick Hunter, chief officer of Nottinghamshire, Doncaster and Rotherham LPCs told the delegates in the growth and development stream.

‘We all need to understand what stakeholders want and then identify what community pharmacy can do to meet that need,’ chair of the Local Professional Network for Durham, Darlington, and Tees, Mike Maguire said.

Brent Foster, an independent prescriber for Whitworth Chemists said that pharmacies need to take advantage of services that patients are willing to pay to increase profits, for example blood pressure testing.

  1. ‘Pharmacies need a website, and not a £500 one’

Pharmacists must embrace digital future to stay ahead of the game. An important message throughout the stream was that pharmacies need to be more aware of the potential marketing reach of social media and get their customers involved.

Delegates praised the event for it’s ‘great marketing idea’ to give out free coffee in exchange for tweets using the hashtag. This could be a great way to encourage customers to follow you on your new online presence by providing them with a small perk for doing so.

  1. Pret A Manger spends more money on refurbishments than advertising

Mark Palmer, the former marketing director for popular sandwich chain, Pret A Manger, said: ‘Don't spend any money on marketing until you've done everything else.’ If your team, your shop front, and your customer experience are not top notch then you are not ready to spend money on advertising.

‘Find out who your target audience are and how can you make their lives better,’ Mr Palmer advised. His message to community pharmacy is the same as for any local business, ‘Stay relevant, don't rest on your laurels and push forwards’.

  1. ‘Expert health advice is what differentiates pharmacies from the Amazon model’

Deborah Evans, managing director for Pharmacy Complete which provides strategic advice and support to pharmacy organisation, spoke about Healthy Living Pharmacy (HLP) and how it fits into the Quality Payments Scheme.

We need to move from ‘ticking a box’ with HLP to embedding it within the daily practice of the whole team, Ms Evans said.

‘Think about the best member of your team to become your health champion. For example, think who in team other than the pharmacist can offer a stop-smoking service?’ she advised.

‘HLP is about having a quality mark which says “this pharmacy is both willing and able to care for your needs”.’

Pharmacies who take part in the scheme tend to benefit from better staff retention, higher income streams and higher income per interaction.

Pharmacies should be proactive and create engaging stands to show patients about what services they are providing. Tune into what’s happening nationally and locally to create a relevant HLP campaign. And engage with local key influencers. ‘My local MP just became the new pharmacy minister so you never know!’ Ms Evans said.

The process to becoming a HLP:

  • Develop your health champions
  • Fulfil the HLP quality criteria
  • Submit your self-declaration of compliance (SDC)
  1. How to run a pain management clinic

Mark Robinson, medicines optimisation advisor for NHS Alliance said: ‘Chronic pain management is not about illuminating pain but about helping patients to live with pain in the best way possible.’

‘We need to explore the impact of pain in terms of social activity and mental health and wellbeing.’ Having this focus can help to establish goals with your patient, he said. ‘What pain intensity reduction should we aim for? And what would that allow them to do?’

‘Consultations focused on pain alone are automatically going to give a negative experience,’ Mr Robinson said. ‘See the whole person.’

Electroceuticals regulate nerve activity, which can help manage chronic pain, the conference heard. ActiPatch is a non-invasive alternative for chronic pain sufferers which has shown a 57% reduction in chronic pain.

Pharmacies should consider which creative alternatives to traditional pain killers could benefit their patients and boost business income.

  1. How to start an effective travel vaccine service

Jignesh Patel, co-founder and director of spoke of told the conference: ‘Never start a new service without considering the marketing of it, however, a travel clinic can be one of the most profitable income revenues.’

‘It's very important to get your key staff on board before you start. Learning the skills needed for a travel vaccine service is easy for pharmacists but the key is learning how to deliver the service effectively.

‘Remember, this is a private service so patients will expect a clinical-looking area for it to be provided in.’

‘A correct consultation should take 20-30 minutes to make sure all the records are done properly.’

‘You need to understand your community's needs,’ Mr Patel said. Consider whether they will be travelling for work, as students, visiting family, or for religion reasons. Then engage with local businesses, universities, religious organisations and travel agencies to promote your service. ‘You can also approach local practices to work with them to provide private travel clinic for patients,’ Mr Patel advised.

What the delegates thought

'It has empowered me. I enjoyed the talk on swot analysis as it will benefit my business immensely in terms of the direction it needs to move, in order to increase profitability especially due to pharmacy cuts,' said contractor, Nita Patel.

'A great opportunity to hear the insight for pharmacy from government leaders, what they think the future holds for pharmacy and how we should embrace the changes,' said pharmacy manager, Eddie Njenga.

'The event was great at providing the opportunity to reflect on where you are and look at evaluating different opportunities and making them fit the future,' said managing director, Dipesh Raghwani.

Readers who missed this year’s event can look up what others learnt on the day by searching Twitter for the hashtag #pharmacyforward.