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The founder and former chief executive of Pharmacy2U has announced plans to invest £8 million in a facility that will allow independently-owned community pharmacies to benefit from ‘hub and spoke’ technologies.

Daniel Lee told Pharmacy Business that planning and development of the UK’s first automated dispensing hub called HubRx was underway in Leeds, ahead of the legislation changes due next year.

“We are already in talks with several independent pharmacy owners and are looking to attract over 200 pharmacies initially,” he said.

The announcement came days after health secretary Matt Hancock told a National Pharmacy Association Conference how the government wanted pharmacy “to ensure more efficient dispensing to create more capacity” by making use of “the hub-and-spoke models that I have seen working effectively.”

Lee believes HubRx will free up time for pharmacies to focus on providing both NHS and private clinical services to patients, such as the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service, extension of NMS and other planned services, according to the company.

However, the new site will only reduce only 70 per cent of the dispensing workload of the pharmacists. When asked to expand on it, Lee said: “It will not be possible to dispense some prescriptions via hub and spoke, for example acute prescriptions, controlled drugs,  items not suitable for automation,” among others.

Further commenting on the new facility, Lee said: “Our model offers potential efficiencies and additional profit, but importantly we will be freeing up significant capacity of the community pharmacy teams to focus on higher value clinical services.

“We have a transparent cost plus model, with a flat service fee. HubRx is a service provider to independent pharmacies and will be recharging the cost price of the medicines and the service fee which we are currently developing. Our model means they will benefit from larger-scale purchasing efficiencies.”

Lee added that most independents cannot receive the benefits of the robotic dispensing as they will not be able to invest the necessary amount required to benefit from it.

“Some larger pharmacies will definitely benefit from automated robotic dispensing locally…The HubRx model also allows independent pharmacy to benefit from the economies of scale from bulk purchasing currently enjoyed by the large multiples that already have hub and spoke operations. We are levelling the playing field for independents,” he pointed out.

The company’s latest investment plans has come when local pharmacies take on an expanded role in the community during the coronavirus outbreak.

As GP surgeries struggle to stay open and cope with the wave of coronavirus infections, many pharmacists have become the first port of call for worried patients seeking trusted health advice – while also coping with a huge increase in prescriptions.

Joining HubRx as a non-executive director is Mike Hewitson, a Dorset-based contractor and staunch defender of independent pharmacy.

He said: “A service like HubRx would have helped independent community pharmacy tremendously during this pandemic, and it will be badly needed long after the outbreak is over. The presence and reliability of local pharmacies has been vital for patients in these last few months. HubRx will help by filling prescriptions reliably and safely while releasing us to take on more of the clinical role we have been trained for.

“For me, joining HubRx is an opportunity to show independent pharmacies how technology can work for us. The team have a real desire to help independents compete, transform and thrive in a changing world – and understand the values which make independent pharmacy so important to us and our communities. This is needed now, more than ever – and we need to set the standards as the industry evolves.”

HubRx has signed a commercial agreement with Clanwilliam Health who provide RxWeb PMR system, the UK’s only web-based Patient Medical Record (PMR) system.

Currently used by over 1,800 pharmacies across the UK, RxWeb’s system flexibility and advanced functionality made it a natural fit for HubRx.

Both systems will be integrated to create processes that facilitate the safe and seamless transfer of prescriptions to the hub and then delivery back to the pharmacy.

By reducing the workload of repeat prescription dispensing, the hub will give pharmacists more time to deliver more profitable clinical services to patients. Importantly, independent pharmacists will remain in control of the patient relationship throughout the dispensing process.

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