Taking the “gamble to invest” in new pharmacy design may be a challenge when £170m cuts are looming but Weldricks are already reaping the benefit of patient satisfaction.
Following the company’s announcement they relocated their Dunscroft branch to new premises in a shopping centre, we caught up with regional deputy superintendent pharmacist, Dale McVeigh, to find out more about pharmacy design.
What was your involvement in the design of the premises?
I have been with the company since 1994 and over that time we have moved, designed and built many, many pharmacies. Obviously we have to work within a budget because there are some really fancy pharmacy designs out there. Making a practical design that works is the key.
What is the most important consideration when designing a pharmacy?
My designs are all based on flow – flow of workload and flow of people. The amount of times we cross over each other or bump into one another or find things in the way can lead to frustration developing that can mean unhappy working practices and slow productivity. My focus is all about making sure it flows for the customer and for our staff.
What else do you need to take into account?
It is always a compromise between retail space and dispensary space. Retail space generates income and dispensary space doesn’t necessarily generate income but it allows the staff to move freely to give the best level of service, to make fewer mistakes and to make it safer.
There’s always an ongoing debate about how much space the dispensary needs over how much space the retail aspect of the business can afford to lose before it becomes unviable.
The workload is 80% dispensary to 20% retail, roughly and we never get 80% of the shop space. You have probably been into many, many community pharmacies – we are lucky to get 25-30% of the floor space available and that would be lucky.
With the Dunscroft branch we shuffled round some of the items we sell so we could sell the same amount of stock in a smaller square footage. That allowed us to build a larger consultation room and to have more room in the dispensary.
Is it easy to carve up the space to suit patient needs?
The problem is when you move a pharmacy you never know what level of business you are going to be doing. Dunscroft was a low to middling range dispensing pharmacy where it initially was and where we relocated to was an up and coming shopping parade next to a supermarket with onsite parking.
Also we are down the road from one of our very busiest pharmacies in the company and so we knew there was a likelihood some customers would migrate to the Dunscroft branch but you never know how much or how many.
So it is always a little bit of a punt in the dark about how you need to resize your dispensary and what workflow is going to come in.
How do building regulations restrict your design plans?
The current building regulations are an enigma to me, sometimes they don’t make sense and sometimes they are just ludicrous and from one year to the next they change. So the toilet had to be almost two-and-a-half times the size of the original one that we had planned and that compromised the back area, so it made the staff area smaller and the stock room smaller.
You know what you want but then legislation gets in the way so you have to comply with that so it is always a compromise.
Sometimes where the doors are you don’t necessarily want the doors there and there’s a choice do you replace the door with one you want at an extra costs? Do you replace the windows and get planning permission for those? Everything you want to put in, even down to air conditioning you need planning permission for.
We couldn’t fit the air conditioning units literally until the weekend before we moved in because that’s when we got planning permission for them.
How much does it cost to transform an empty retail unit into a pharmacy?
There are relative costs, as in materials costs, external contractors costs and then there’s the internal costs that you tend to absorb, which is my time, the operations team’s time, the planning time. We have got a project manager who overseas all of the builds and who is there on a constant basis.
And then you have got the handymen and painters who deal with the snags after you have finished the build.
I don’t have the ultimate costs but we know roughly for just the materials, not including purchase of the premises, so that is just the materials to actually re-fit and some of the contractors’ costs, you are talking about £50,000.
It’s a huge investment to take on as a business owner, how is that affected by the current climate?
It is difficult for every pharmacy at the moment to actually want to invest in the infrastructure of a pharmacy when payments are coming in via the NHS and the NHS can withdraw funding without any negotiation or discussion or they can renegotiate you the payment down.
So if you want to put a ten or 12 year plan in place for a premises and the funding can be pulled depending on the government, that is difficult to invest in.
So that is where pharmacy struggles, it’s that gamble to invest when you want to be sure you have got the income coming in. Hence we go back to the retail against professional space because retail we can control but on the professional side we are limited.
Have you had any feedback from patients so far?
On the very first day of opening the second customer who walked through the door bought them a box of chocolates and a welcome card. That is one of their existing customers who traversed all the way from the old premises to the new one and they came in to say it was lovely and they couldn’t believe Weldricks had invested in such a nice premises.
We do tend to employ people who live in the locality so word of mouth spreads through family and friends and the business is doing better than expected which is a really good feeling.