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We understand the problems plaguing community pharmacy, but now the public hopefully will, too

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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.

Readers' comments (1)

  • I watched with interest the Undercover boss for Rowlands Pharmacy.It did a very good job of hi-lighting some of the issues we have in pharmacy. I wonder how many viewers actually took note of the free services we provide. Most probably do not realise that we are not funded to provide delivery services, our advice and time on the counter is free and on many occasions doesn't result in a sale. But we are always there and they can walk in without an appointment any time they like. Points about the delivery service I think could have been looked at in a slightly different way. We have become a lazy nation... why should we expect everything delivered to our doorstep. The large companies have ruined a service originally intended to help those elderly and housebound patients who had no means of getting their medication. It's been pushed so much by the big companies offering it to one and all, which means those who really need it may end up suffering .How many times do we end up delivering and the patient is perfectly capable of getting out and about , have 2-3 cars on the drive, or they ring and say "oh please don't deliver at such and such time as I'm going out" ! If they are capable of going out then they are capable of collecting their medicines. We are all suffering from losses and OTC sales are down .... ever considered that's because we are promoting delivery services which keeps the patients out of the shops.You don't need to be a genius to work out that this will lead to reduced sales. Category M and claw backs are severely damaging our NHS revenue, surely we ought to encourage people to come into our shops rather than pander to their demands of home delivery. The government want us to promote healthy lifestyles... how can we do this if we actively encourage them to have everything delivered ? The walk to the shop or walk round the supermarket will do something towards their health rather than sitting on a sofa waiting for their delivery to turn up. The more we encourage people to actually do things for themselves then the more we could reap the benefits by offering health checks, MURS , etc and hopefully linked sales which would increase OTC turnover. I think it's time we all considered how we approach the whole delivery scenario. Keep it to the elderly, housebound, or disabled clients who have real problems ... these are the ones who will actually appreciate our time and effort of going out to them, it will give more time to talk to them and listen to their worries or concerns and offer help . Maybe they need to see a nurse or doctor and need referring but are too scared to ask... but they will tell us. Let's help these people more rather than those who think it's their right to have everything at their beck and call and who actually don't need that service. I could continue about automatic reordering of prescriptions too .... again let's keep that to those who really need it . We should all keep our minds active ... take away memory functions from people and who knows what will happen.

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