Bhupinder Malhi differentiated his pharmacy from other pharmacies to stand out within the infant care category. He reveals the secret of his success…


With continual government budget cuts, increased focus on sustainability and cost efficiencies in the NHS and reductions in profit margins, community pharmacies are feeling the squeeze and seeing an impact on their business.

I see this as a real opportunity for pharmacists to review the current services that are available and seek new opportunities, further extending their offering to the customer.

Pharmacists are much more accessible than other healthcare professionals and therefore are perfectly placed to become the first port of call for parents, to provide advice on the management and treatment of common and minor ailments for them and their families, which often don’t require a GP appointment or a prescription.

As the owner of an independent community pharmacy, I too have faced these challenges and needed to adapt the services I provide. There are several opportunities available, however, I made the decision to develop a business plan to attract new customers and offer an additional proposition to parents within the infant category, differentiating us from other local pharmacies and increasing our category sales by three-fold.

We can make pharmacists the ‘go-to’ for both first-time and experienced parents to help appropriately manage common conditions, including infant functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorders such as reflux, colic and constipation, which can affect around 50% of infants before they are six months old.

I have seen first-hand that these conditions can cause substantial distress to both babies and parents, who will often seek medical advice on managing them. However, according to a new expert review of current management recommendations published in Acta Paediatrica, with the exception of functional constipation, medication is seldom required.

It also concluded that first-line management should focus on parental reassurance and nutritional advice. I firmly believe that pharmacists are well placed to provide this type of advice and these services to anxious parents, reassuring them effectively, offering appropriate nutritional advice and practical tips, and medicating less, which is key to helping reduce unnecessary GP visits and prescriptions, and saving the NHS money.

In fact, a recent BMJ Open study calculated that a minimum of £72.3 million per year (£49.1 million by the NHS) is spent on infant functional GI disorders in England alone. This cost can be reduced if these conditions are managed appropriately, especially as £6.3 million is spent on GP consultations and prescriptions for colic medicines, which have no evidence of efficacy.

These are costs to the NHS that pharmacists can help save overnight, but it is also an opportunity to grow the business both directly in the infant category, by providing a range on management solutions for parents, and indirectly by building a rapport and level of trust with the parent, who will make repeat visits for their family needs.

At my pharmacy, we are leading the charge in providing reassurance and nutritional advice for parents around the management of these conditions, however this wasn’t always the case. I made a conscious decision to train the team on infant functional GI disorders following a consultation where I did not feel equipped to properly advise a distressed parent who came to me for advice when her baby who was crying with colic-like symptoms.

After reflecting on the situation with my team we realised our knowledge in this area was non-existent, something that I feel is very common within community pharmacy. I also thought about what support and nutritional advice should be provided for parents, and how this is signposted within the pharmacy, including the shelf space.

As a result, we have introduced the following changes in-pharmacy with positive results:

• Reviewed the current skillset and training our team receives to help support parents in the management of infant functional GI disorders. As part of an educational campaign I, alongside other healthcare professionals, helped to develop a new free educational resource available on MIMS Leaning. This resource summarises the guidelines for infant reflux, colic and constipation, and provides guidance on how to deliver nutritional and practical advice well, and how to reassure parents effectively by improving your consultation skills. The resource is available here.

• Engaged with local stakeholders, outside of the pharmacy setting, who may be aware of parents experiencing these problems, e.g. GP surgeries, local businesses, nurseries and schools, in order to promote the nutritional support we can provide to distressed parents.

• Reviewed what the customer experience will be when they come into our pharmacy, including:

– Who will be the first port of call in the team to field questions?
– Do we have a private consultation room/quiet space to offer them a space to discuss their concerns?
– Do we offer practical advice and further information that parents can take away with them?
– Is our approach in line with current management guidelines?
– Are we clear on when it is appropriate to refer a parent and baby on to the GP?

• Ensured that we listen to parents and talk to them in a reassuring and supportive way about the steps that can be taken to manage these conditions and, where appropriate, offer nutritional advice based on the guidelines – this will help to alleviate their stress.

By putting these steps in place and starting to engage parents with our positive evidence-based support, we have markedly improved their experience and have gained their trust.
This has provided us with a significant increase in repeat visits, not only for infant health advice, but also for their personal requirements, including prescription fulfilment, OTC medicines and beyond.

By ensuring that parents leave our pharmacy feeling reassured and informed on how to manage their baby’s reflux, colic or constipation, we are helping to save the NHS money by reducing the need for GP consultations, and the demand for prescriptions of medicines with no proven efficacy.

Pharmacists are pivotal in improving care and supporting parents, and this can create additional opportunities for your business in the short and longer-term. I will leave you with one question to ask your team. What experience would a distressed parent with a crying baby have in our pharmacy?

Bhupinder Malhi is a community pharmacist and director of Hill Top Pharmacy in Sandwell, West Midlands.