Posted by: Chris Chapman6 AUG 2014
It was less of a revelation, more an affirmation. Rowlands Pharmacy faces the same problems as every community pharmacy, large or small, in the UK.
That was the take-home point from Kenny Black’s sojourn to the coal face in Channel 4’s “Undercover boss”, where the charismatic leader of the pharmacy giant donned a fat suit, goatee and glasses and waddled around the dispensary with staff oblivious to his identity. This in itself is quite a feat; Kenny leads a week-long conference for employees every year, which aims to get members of staff up to speed with the company’s priorities and up on the bar dancing during the evening’s entertainment. Kenny Black is not an anonymous corporate head.
Beyond the comic disguise, TV pageantry and personal moments (“Undercover boss” caters to the twee, and every episode ends with a saccharine ritual “reveal”, where employees get told how great they are and are given a prize), there was very little new. Pharmacies are understaffed – check. Out-of-stocks are a constant problem – check. Pharmacies are under threat from new entrants and government belt-tightening – check. This could have been any community pharmacy chain.
There were glaring omissions, too. The cameras made it seem like Kenny didn’t speak to a single pharmacist during his adventure. And his condemnation of the tat sold in one branch (“Tutankhamen’s head… it’s shit”) wasn’t new: Rowlands has been refitting branches to focus on its core health offering and expunge the bric-a-brac for years.
Yet although no one working in community pharmacy will be surprised by “Undercover boss”, it’s worth keeping in mind that was never the point. To millions of viewers, this lifted the lid on why they’re sat waiting for medicines they need. It showed them how hard — how desperately hard — pharmacy staff are working on their behalf. And it highlighted services unfamiliar to many who could benefit.
Kenny’s “mission” was not ground-breaking. And it was all the better for it.