Pupinder Singh Ghatora talks to Pharmacy Business about his pharmacy, Woodlands Chemist, in Oxford…

How would you describe your pharmacy?
A very busy high volume independent community pharmacy. We deliver a high percentage of our prescriptions and also a large number of dossette boxes. We are accredited to provide all the clinical services that are commissioned. The pharmacy is situated in between a row of houses and was converted into a store over 50 years ago. We have almost no footfall as there is no convenient place for our patients to park hence we must give an exceptional service for patients to continue to use our services and be a viable business.

How long have you been a pharmacist?
Too long. I spent four great years at Kings College London and qualified in 2002.

Describe the area your pharmacy is in
My store is just outside the centre of Oxford, approximately five minutes away from the main train station. The location feels very much like a village as I know almost all my patients personally. We have a high proportion of elderly clients and also many young families.

What is the best and worst thing about being a pharmacist?
The best thing about being a pharmacist is the satisfaction you feel when a patient tells you, you have given them the best advice and they would rather see you than their GP!
Unfortunately, the worst things about being a pharmacist at the moment outweigh the best aspects of our role. Our funding model is an absolute shambles. I have seen my income drop significantly over the last year or so. It seems we still have to continue the ever stressful supply role which is becoming more and more demanding as script volume is ever increasing.
Our professional bodies are completely out of touch with the profession at grass roots level. Our new contract has not even taken into account the COSI! Our current costs of supplying medication are not covered but we are continually being squeezed and been told that funding is available to provide clinical services.  
This is a lie – my PCT, Clinical Commissioning Group or whatever else this body is now known as is actually decommissioning services!
The profession also has no sense of unity; the multiples have their own agenda, as do independents, as do hospital pharmacists and as do pharmacists working for CCGs. I was the vice-chair of our LPC – there was no sense of unity of focus whatsoever. I was actually told by a multiple area manager that he was not worried about the direction of pharmacy as his organisation has a head office that will ensure they still make money. With attitudes like that, what chance do we have?

How much do your sales depend on seasons and weather?
This is a significant factor in OTC sales – we notice our sunny days produce greater takings. When the weather is grim our takings always take a turn for the worst. I believe this is the general trend, no matter which retail business you run.

What is your view on funding and the role of the PSNC?
Our funding model is not fit for purpose. The PSNC is definitely not fit for purpose. The new pharmacy contract is an absolute shambles. It has devalued the dispensing role completely.
It was a stupid decision to accept the new contract. We are now going to see pharmacies going out of business thanks to this ridiculous funding model.
I cannot believe any other profession would be stupid enough to accept a huge cut in funding and more than double an increase in workload!
The PSNC do not work for the benefit of pharmacy, they have their own personal agenda. Sue Sharpe (PSNC chief executive) has not seen any reduction in her hundred thousand pound-plus salary. Her and the rest of the board have no clue what is going on at a grassroots level and they are prepared to let the profession die.  

What part of the business is the most challenging to work in?
The most challenging part of the business currently is opening the PPD statement at the end of the month and hoping you are not going to go bankrupt!!  My staff and I are prepared to do any service that is commissioned, but if we are going to be paid less to do triple the work, how are we to move forward.  I keep hearing, things will be better in a few years, at present it is a challenge to make ends meet!

Do customers ask for products they have seen on TV that you know nothing about?
Yes, quite often. Sometimes we are privileged enough to have the product at the same time as the larger chains and we can then compete at a small level. It can be quite frustrating sometimes as the larger chains have the financial muscle to insist on some level of exclusivity for some products us smaller independents would like to promote.