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Will Rowlands Pharmacy's appearance on TV change pharmacy? I doubt it

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When Undercover Boss was broadcast last Tuesday (5th August 2014) on Channel 4, I was in Dunfermline Athletic’s East End Park stadium having to put up with watching my local football team Raith Rovers crash out of the first round of the very tournament that they famously won earlier this year against Glasgow Rangers.

At the same time, a certain debate was taking place between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling about what Scotland should do when it comes to the forthcoming referendum on independence. It felt like the world was descending into chaos by the time Kenny Black appeared on television where he explored some of his Rowlands Pharmacy branches on the small screen.

Eventually, I got round to catching up with the programme. Some managing directors of companies do themselves no justice by conforming to the stereotype normally painted of them – tough, lacking compassion and not understanding how people within their companies really work (I appreciate that many managing directors of companies aren’t really like that).

At first, I could see that Kenny didn’t fit that stereotype at all and there were glimpses of the humane side of the Scottish Managing Director of one of the UK’s well known pharmacy chains when the summary montage of what was to come in the show was broadcast at the start of the episode. At the beginning of the show, Kenny gave an concise explanation as to what was going on within pharmacy today and there wasn’t very much I could disagree with from what he said about how competitive it was becoming and why he needed to do what he did in terms of investigating what was going on within the business.

In the first part of the show he worked alongside Lauren, who was the dispenser at the pharmacy he visited in Essex.  The pharmacy was reported to have had 27 items out of stock on the day he was there – nearly every pharmacist could relate to that familiar issue of items going out of stock, because the fact that certain medicines cannot be obtained quickly enough to fulfill prescriptions for the patient’s needs is proving to be an ongoing and frankly dangerous problem. It was important that this issue was highlighted and welcoming that it featured so early on in the show.

What I found fascinating in the second part of the show was Kenny’s experience of being in the warehouse where he worked with Lynn in Portsmouth. The fact that he struggled to keep up with the demands and expectations of picking 120 items per hour was extraordinary to watch. But it all comes down to the point that no matter what your position is in life or within a business, you can never automatically be brilliant at everything.

Later on in the programme, Kenny headed up to Sunderland to explore how a delivery driver copes during a typical day. Now some people from across pharmacy, particularly on social media, criticised the fact that other pharmacists didn’t feature with their own constructive opinions on their working lives. Some may question why Jackie was prioritised over them, but I could see why he featured in the show.

Jackie’s input was vital as the demands he faces on a daily basis are vast, especially as he has to get all of the deliveries completed by closing time, ensure that patients have access to their medicines and to talk with those patients, which is absolutely critical, because he is the representative of the whole pharmacy (including the pharmacist and staff). Without the delivery driver, a key element is diminished. Some patients have absolutely no way of physically accessing services from a pharmacy. Some of those patients may even need someone to talk to, so this is why the input of the delivery driver matters.

The final visit Kenny made was to a branch in West Yorkshire where the focus was on retail where he worked with Atlanta. Maintaining a professional image within pharmacy is vital, but I felt this part of the show was a bit over-hyped. I’m not disagreeing with Kenny’s analysis, but the programme focused too much on irrelevant matters when it should have given more of an insight into how healthcare assistants can provide vital support to the rest of the pharmacy team and how they can be trained up to offer healthcare advice to patients visiting the pharmacy. Mentioning other aspects of pharmacy such as the Minor Ailment Scheme (which is a key feature of community pharmacy in Scotland) would have also been more useful.

It’s understandable for fellow pharmacists to call for a chance to have the voices of other pharmacists heard as well, but the whole purpose of this episode of Undercover Boss was to get an overall picture of the Rowlands Pharmacy business and that meant covering a wide variety of people and areas within the company. Sometimes, it isn’t always about us and it shouldn’t be.

The humility that Kenny experienced was powerful to watch. I really hope other managing directors of other pharmacy companies and various stakeholders from across the profession can take a leaf out of his book and explore the issues thoroughly that currently dominate the profession today.

As insightful as this edition of Undercover Boss was, it won’t change anything for the better within pharmacy overnight, because not enough action is being taken across the profession to make change work for the benefit of everybody. And not enough overall insight is being shown into the issues discussed within the programme (and many other issues not covered by the show). Opinion remains divided on a variety of issues, but one thing is for certain – to quote Lynn who was in the delivery depot, “happy people are productive people”.

And she is absolutely right.

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