Dr Leyla Hannbeck, the chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, today (March 17) called upon the community pharmacy sector to come together to resist online pharmacy.
News that Amazon has registered “Amazon Pharmacy” with the UK Intellectual Patent Office, and the ever-increasing aggressive advertising by some online pharmacies, says Hannbeck, should act as a “wake-up call”.
To do nothing, she says, is to invite the demise of community pharmacies, as has occurred elsewhere in retailing. In the case of pharmacies, she says, the impact on the country’s healthcare will be devastating. “When the local pharmacy disappears, the public will lose access to a level of service and expertise that cannot be delivered online.”
The sector, according to Hannbeck, must not allow the argument to develop that online dispensing saves the NHS money. “It is a myth. All pharmacies are paid in the same way from the same pot, whether they are online or located in the high street.
“All that will happen is that because the online supplier has a lower cost base, they will make more money which will be taken out of healthcare services and given to shareholders.”
Delivering medicines remotely will reduce the amount of funding available to “bricks and mortar” pharmacies. They will cease to employ as many local, trained, skilled staff and not be able to supply the same levels of care and attention. Eventually, they will close completely.
Pharmacies provide a wide range of professional services, that is why patients choose one pharmacy over another. “As their income reduces, the sector will become engaged in a damaging cost reduction race to the bottom to provide fewer services.”
Says Hannbeck: “Online pharmacists are not familiar with local doctors, while a local community pharmacist is in frequent communication with a patient’s doctor. We‘re local medicines experts, a source of professional advice and counselling – we’re aware of a patients’ health histories, health needs and the medicines they take.
“We can advise them on how to take their medicines properly, so when someone is diagnosed with a long-term condition such as asthma or diabetes and are put on new medicines for the first time, the pharmacist can talk to the patient and ensure they are taking them correctly and help reduce medicines wastage and making a saving for the NHS.
“In addition, patients come to us for items like vaccinations, the morning after pill, stop smoking treatments, and advice on minor ailments.”
Says Hannbeck: “If pharmacies are no longer there who would the population turn to? Surely not to A&E departments and overstretched GP surgeries.”
“AIM will be liaising with regulators and stakeholders to highlight the issues in regards to some of the advertising tactics which are showing the profession in a bad light by some online pharmacies and urgently seek to understand what the regulators can do to address these issues.”