The award-winning Kirby Pharmacy is more interested in listening to what its patients want rather than what NHS England wants. Its pharmacist Dipali Patel talks to Neil Trainis


“There is a huge demand for natural health products here because we have a big influx of patients and we do more services, so offer more products. There’s a big demand,” Dipali Patel, a pharmacist at the award-winning Kirby Pharmacy in Teddington, says assertively.

NHS England’s (NHSE) scant disregard for alternative medicine, illustrated by its recent consultation to rid the NHS of what it regards as “low clinical value” prescription products, has not discouraged the pharmacy, winners of last year’s Pharmacy Business Natural Healthcare Pharmacy award, from stocking natural remedies on its shelves.

Quite the contrary. For Dipali, it is not about what the government wants. It is about what the patient wants.

“In our area we have quiet affluent people who are happy to purchase products with the right advice because they personally know us. We have a wide range of brands of good quality. We have good options for patients,” she says.

“It does tend to be seasonal though, so we get a demand for certain products in winter for example. But the demand is throughout the year on things like vitamins. We get patients requesting things like vitamin D, iron, omega-3.”

Dipali is asked if she agrees with NHSE’s description of homeopathy and herbal treatments as “low clinical value” and its insistence on both counts that there is “no clear or robust evidence to support its use.”

“It’s hard. You can see where they are coming from. They are looking to cut down on costs. But I think all these vitamins and supplements need a standard rule. My grandparents were always on vitamins and multi-vitamins but the doctor stopped it.

“In my area they are still prescribing it. The government should standardise it, make it clear whether it should be available or not, because it’s different in all areas. It’s fine for people who need natural health but some people will buy a product and they don’t take everything and that is a waste of prescribing time and resources.”

Homeopathy has been given a particularly rough ride recently, notably by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society who have voiced concerns around what it perceives as a lack of clinical effectiveness. In 2015 its chief scientist Jayne Lawrence urged pharmacists to “cast homeopathy from the shelves.”

Dipali prefers to remain open-minded. “This doesn’t work for everyone, it’s quite subjective. You shouldn’t rule it out if it doesn’t work for one person. People do like natural health. It’s not all about drugs. People want to have the choice,” she suggests.

She has some advice for other pharmacists who may be reluctant to stock natural health because of the negative publicity that has swirled around it.

“It helps to have good reps so they can explain the products to the staff. Training is so important. You have turmeric for example but you need to know what makes this brand different from that brand, how to sell it on.

“We have Holland & Barrett over the road but we give our patients good advice particularly with MURs. You don’t want to give someone six different products. You need to tailor your advice to that patient. And if a patient wants a natural product, it’s down to patient choice at the end of the day.”

Dipali and her team have in-depth knowledge of natural healthcare including homeopathy and herbal medicines and the pharmacy has an extensive line of natural skin care brands.

Yet there is much more to Kirby Pharmacy than its strong focus on natural health, a fact perhaps overshadowed by the fact it won the Natural Healthcare Pharmacy award. The business is renowned for providing excellent advice specific to the individual patient no matter what the product. And healthy living advice is not in short supply for those who walk through Kirby Pharmacy’s doors.

It underwent a refit three years ago which radically changed its layout not to mention the services it offered. Where there is a demand for a service, it has been quick to fill that need. New services have been introduced such as acupuncture, podiatry, dental surgery, ostomy and urostomy supplies and reflexology.

“We wanted to create a one-stop multi-service health centre. We try and cater for patients and we have some patients who would rather come here than go to the GP for their flu jab,” Dipali says with more than a hint of pride.

“We also provide good foot care for patients and have a good link-up with the podiatrist here. We also have an audiologist who carries out hearing aid tests and ear wax removal.”

It feels like Dipali and her team have left very few stones unturned as they try and meet consumer demand. People who need lifestyle support, perhaps a reduction in their cholesterol or an improvement in their sleep, get the support and remedy to meet their need.

But, as she insists, pharmacists need to speculate to accumulate even in this age of frugality and financial upheaval.

“If you put the money in you’ll get money back. We always have three, four pharmacists here. We have a big consultation room and a clinic room at the back of the pharmacy. There is plenty of space. We also have a travel clinic where we’re doing things like yellow fever. The clinic is in its third year.

“Our staff are always fully trained. Whenever we have a product rep come in, they do CPD training and this happens about once a month.”

Kirby Pharmacy’s desire to fulfil patient need is relentless.