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The Big Interview: Jay Patel

By Neil Trainis

PUBLISHED: December 12, 2016 | UPDATED: December 16, 2016

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Jay Patel insists he is not the man to fill the shoes of his late father. The director at Day Lewis talks to Neil Trainis

 

“We’re all very different people. Myself and Kirit have a bit of an overlap in some areas, in other areas we don’t,” Jay Patel says pondering the perception that he is treading the same path as his late father as pharmacy politician and figurehead of Day Lewis.

To the backdrop of commotion in a busy coffee house almost a stone’s throw from Harrods, where Day Lewis has a pharmacy, Jay shirks from inevitable comparisons between himself and his father, the founder of the pharmacy chain whose sudden death this summer left a large void within the pharmacy industry.

Jay does not see himself filling Kirit’s shoes. At Day Lewis, he insists, it is not only down to him to steer the company forward but also his brother Sam and sister Rupa who are fellow directors and the next generation of Day Lewis.

“The true picture of him would probably a culmination of the three of us. You’d get a complete picture of him in that sense,” Jay suggests.

“Where I do agree with him was getting involved politically is something we should be doing because we have an insight into pharmacy that is not geographically restricted and we’re able to see the exposure to a lot more challenges within different areas.

“That allows us to put a hand in the air and say ‘look, there’s an opportunity and no-one’s pushing pharmacy forward to follow that through. That’s really what we enjoy doing and doing that so it ensures a level playing field.’ That’s where I would say we do wholeheartedly agree with each other.”

Jay does not embrace the idea that Kirit, often vigorously defensive of the pharmacy profession and who was never shy to voice an opinion, was one of a kind. That pharmacy will never have another like him again.

“Why not? Why can’t we? There are plenty of passionate community pharmacists and they’ve all made a stand in the last, vocally as well, in the last six, eight, 12 months,” Jay says.

“You go to YouTube and type in NPA Ian Strachan. That’s a motivated, charismatic pharmacist who’s trying to explain his passion for the industry. There are countless more people out there who are in a position to do that.”

Yet it is hard to escape the sense that Jay, a confident, assertive yet affable young man, is emerging as the driving force within Day Lewis.

“You haven’t met the other two. Far from it. The business requires three different forces.My brother Sam takes responsibility for finance, pharmacy acquisitions and the purchasing side. He worked at PwC in the city for several years and did his MBA at Insead.

“Myself, I’m a pharmacist first and foremost. We’ve all got MBAs, we’ve all got post-graduate qualifications beyond our existing qualifications.

“I’m very much the boot room boy having managed at every level of the business. I also lead on technology and innovation. How long have I been in pharmacy? I understand how that pharma business fits together. But equally it doesn’t work without having that financial focus.

“And in the middle my sister is a dentist by profession. She did a Masters in real estate, she specialised in family business, she works on the board of the IFB, the Institute of Family Business, and community pharmacy is a family business. Rupa has perhaps the most important role. She looks after the people side of our business.

“So there are three executive directors who run the business. We are jointly responsible for where the business goes. And individually we are responsible for the different parts of how that sticks together, so it doesn’t work without the balance.”

Nonetheless, Jay’s election to the PSNC this year reinforced the idea that he is following in Kirit’s footsteps. Kirit also sat on the PSNC. Jay offers a smile.

“Me and my father, we had a similar view on pharmacy. There are a few places in pharmacy where you can voice an opinion. PSNC is one of the places to work and I’m absolutely privileged to be there. I’m enjoying the opportunity to be able to contribute to that level of discussion.”

The PSNC has been embroiled in tough negotiations with a frugal government that has been determined to slash pharmacy’s budget. The measures threaten the community pharmacy network and the safety of patients who rely on their community pharmacies. One wonders what Jay, elected as the multiple chemist representative on the PSNC, can achieve on a negotiating body that appears to have its hands tied behind its back.

“We’re used to a broad-based environment and we’re not phased by that. One of the roles within that family environment is having your own say and saying ‘that doesn’t make sense.’ It’s those simple questions that make you overlook…it’s the ability to challenge in a non-confrontational fashion because that doesn’t get you anywhere…that doesn’t represent the interests of the independent community pharmacist.”

After winning election to the PSNC Jay said: “I would like to ensure that the interests of the independent sector are fairly represented. These are often family businesses with great patient relationships.” It seemed he was suggesting that independents’ interests were not being fairly represented on the PSNC.

“No. Having spoken, at that stage it was before being able to be on the PSNC at some stage. My view was independents should be protected in that sense. When I speak about independents, I talk about single pharmacies,” Jay says.

“Whatever is good in a single pharmacy is right for all of independent pharmacy. My view on it is we are a community of individual pharmacies. Whatever is expected of the sector should be delivered, or can be delivered, by a single independently-owned pharmacy. In that respect it will allow uniformity across the sector.

“At PSNC there is a balance of views around the table, a balance of contributions through the constitution that’s there and I see pharmacists around the table and you often don’t get that feel for people protecting their own camps.”

When asked to clarify if he believes the PSNC does reflect independents’ interests, he says: “Completely. Everyone says ‘you’re a multiple.’ Well I’m not…I am. I’m a multiple…I am more akin to an independent than I am a corporation. We don’t operate like a corporation. The best part that we do is that we are independent. We’re still independent businesses.”

It is difficult to imagine that the PSNC could have done more to stop the cuts. They did attempt to stand toe to toe with the government. “Is really negotiations? I doubt that very much. I would call it imposition,” Kirit once mused. Jay is more sanguine about the PSNC’s struggles with the government.

“The guys at the table are highly skilled and have a lot of insight. And they are negotiators. They are not devoid of negotiation skills. You can sit there and talk to any one of those board members and they’ll give you what for.

“It’s a difficult position to be in and not just pharmacy. The junior doctors…you can go on strike several times, bring hospitals to closure to a certain degree and still not move that part forward with the negotiation stance. We’re in a difficult time for anyone who wishes to negotiate with the government.”

One option being explored by the PSNC is a judicial review of the government’s funding cuts. The NPA is also considering legal action. Desperate times, it seems, calls for desperate measures.

“People are talking about legal action…for an industry that is hugely anti-litigation to be pushed in that direction is basically a statement,” Jay says. He is asked if he agrees that pharmacy should be pursuing legal action.

“You need to be able to make a case to someone and voice an opinion. I totally believe in that. I don’t like the idea of being forced into situations where litigation is the only option because, in any scenario, it’s never nice. I would rather explore every avenue first before having to fight legally.

“What you don’t want to be doing is upsetting people. One party might win but future negotiations are going to be (affected).”
Jay hesitates when asked if Day Lewis would support legal action. “We’ve always been supportive of the NPA and PSNC and everyone. Th

at stance wouldn’t change. But I can’t definitively say (if Day Lewis would support legal action.)”

Outrage over the funding cuts has overshadowed pharmacy’s concern that the government plans to introduce a hub and spoke dispensing model. The chief pharmaceutical officer Keith Ridge believes it would increase efficiency. Others doubt its safety.

“It’s about safety, hub and spoke. There are people who will say it must be safer, robots are safer. The biggest risk to safety with hub and spoke is not the accuracy of the check, it is electrical failure to the site that is dispensing high volume prescriptions, broadband failure,” Jay says.

“That suddenly stops the whole operation to a halt and you’re going to have patients not being able to get drugs. So it isn’t safer than traditional dispensing in pharmacy because there are a lot of factors that can impact those large scale facilities. It isn’t the answer to everything. Efficiency, absolutely.”

Perhaps Jay will make clear his opinions about hub and spoke on the PSNC. “I work closely with people and I work closely with processes and technology. I’ve done that for many, many years. I’ve not played in the political space. It’s not going to be in anyone’s interest for it to be disruptive. Aggressively disruptive,” he insists.

At Day Lewis it feels like a new chapter. Kirit’s goal was to have 400 pharmacies by 2021 and Jay is asked if that is still the target.

“We still want to grow our business. As the family grows we feel we’d like to grow the family business. Growth is organic growth, it’s growing services. Growth is also acquisitions and growing in footprint. Yes, it’s a goal. It’s one of several goals.”

Kirit also spoke about plans to expand into Ireland and Poland and possibly Eastern Europe but Jay is adamant that for the time being, Day Lewis’s focus is the UK.

“With what’s going on at the moment in the NHS, the funding cuts and this drive towards changing the business model of pharmacy, we’ll be focusing on the domestic front for now.

“What I will say is in my lifetime, and I’m still young, I’d like to have some form of international footprint. But the immediate focus is the UK, standing firm with our pharmacy colleagues here.”

In March Day Lewis secured a £160 million loan which it was thought might go towards buying the 14 Lloydspharmacy branches up for grabs (to allow Lloydspharmacy to complete a takeover of Sainsbury’s pharmacies following a Competition & Markets Authority ruling).

“We’ve made enquiries. We didn’t pursue that. We look at any opportunity that comes along but haven’t committed to anything,” Jay says.

He smiles again at the thought that he is emerging as the man to fill Kirit’s shoes.

“I would say Kirit had big shoes to fill, so Rupa, Sam and I are going to be filling them together,” Jay suggests.

“There’s no way one person can do it all. We’ve got motivated pharmacy managers, regional managers, people who’ve been with us for 30 years.”