The work that goes on inside Green Light Pharmacy is impressive. And the work that goes on outside it is inspiring as Neil Trainis discovers…

“I was not surprised. It’s nice to win. It is quite touching actually to be recognised by your peers,” Sanjay Ganvir, a director at the employee-owned Greenlight Pharmacy, says as he reflects on the Pharmacy Business of the Year award it won in October.

Green Light Pharmacy, which has branches across London, has touched the lives of its local communities, taking pharmaceutical healthcare to a new level. It is not so much a pharmacy, more a health and social care centre.

“We had the time to be innovative. When we started 17 years ago we tried to do things differently. We wanted to take a patient-focused approach, a very clinical approach. That’s the way healthcare is going.”

The Euston branch of Green Light Pharmacy was the first one to be opened in the chain. It opened its doors in November 1999 and epitomises innovation.

The pharmacy has been constructed with great attention to detail. Products are clearly marked out, there is a plethora of services, even a travel clinic, and two independent prescribers who manage HIV patients and pregnant women and give advice to athletes including Olympians. Private areas have been built into the till points to allow for discreet chats with patients.

Walk downstairs and you encounter a training room, linked to UCL School of Pharmacy and part funded by a lottery grant, which educates undergraduates, pre-registration students and practice support pharmacists. It has allowed Green Light to offer pharmacists to local GP practices. It feels unprecedented.

“We utilised the basement to provide training. When we started we thought we were the first ones to do this in the world,” Sanjay says chuckling slightly.

“We wanted to give students a real patient-facing experience. We do a lot of outreach work. We worked with the local mosque and we’ve developed links with charities.”

The work that goes on within the walls of Green Light Pharmacy is impressive. But the work the pharmacy does in its local community cannot be underestimated. Sanjay describes the pharmacy as “socially responsible.”

A number of years ago Green Light got involved with the West Euston Partnership, an alliance of community, private, statutory and voluntary sectors working together to improve local services for the community.

The pharmacy eventually became an integral part of the Partnership’s West Euston Healthy Community Project and works alongside organisations such as the Bengali Workers’ Association, Fitzrovia Youth in Action and Third Age Project to deliver healthy living programmes in the area.

“We approached the lottery for funding and helped to establish the West Euston healthy living partnership. We look not only at health but the wider determinants of health. We did things like health talks, health walks, after-school clubs, healthy cooking. It empowers people.

“We are a socially responsible business. Community pharmacy has a massive role locally. You can give back to the local community by utilising skills you already have.”

Tales of pharmacies reaching out to their communities and having a positive impact on the health of local populations are the kind of stories that might just convine the government of pharmacy’s true worth. Greenlight has much to be proud of.

Yet it may be that some community pharmacies feel they are too busy to indulge in health and social work. Others might not have the staff to do so.

“We do have a higher staffing level than the industry norm. But that’s been factored into our business model. For any pharmacists wanting to engage with the local community, it’s quite a virtuous circle,” Sanjay suggests.

“It’s morally the right thing to do. And you get a reputation for being a different kind of pharmacy, a pharmacy that engages with its local community. It’s about being innovative.

“We did outreach work at the local school. We gave lots of advice to parents. When the parents drop their kids to school, it’s an amazing network. We arranged to talk to the parents, the mums and dads, in a spare classroom after they had dropped the kids off.

“We talk about kids’ health and identifying when kids are ill. The feedback we had was amazing. I come back to the point that you get a reputation for being different and embedding yourself into the community.”

Sanjay is a calm talker. Yet there are things that get under his skin. The funding crisis is an obvious one. But it is more than that. It is the government’s general attitude towards pharmacy. Sanjay uses words such as “hurtful” and “shocked.”

“I think we underestimate the impact of the safe supply of medcines to patients,” he says. “I get worried about the government’s agenda of the Amazonisation of medicines, trying to turn it into a different commodity. That’s not what the delivery of healthcare should be about.

“Every contact counts with every medicine we dispense. (At Green Light) we have health pods where pharmacists can have private conversations with patients. It makes a massive difference. It’s about the way we counsel patients.

“With all these extra clinical services pharmacy can deliver, it strikes me as nuts that the government doesn’t utilise us more. Pharmacy is the biggest healthcare walk-in centre.

“I was quite shocked by the announcement (of the funding cuts) in parliament. What was unbelievably disappointing was the tone of the announcement. It was quite dismissive of the whole profession. The tone of that announcement was hurtful really.”

He is asked if the government’s swingeing cuts will force Green Light to scale back its services or reduce its staff.

“It’s going to affect every single pharmacy in the country extremely badly. It’s not only the cuts, the pharmacy contract. At the same time there’s a massive Category M claw-back,” he says.

“Pharmacy saves the government £11 billion in the procurement of medicines. What other part of the NHS does that? That’s without everything else going on, the clinical services.

“How do we respond to this? We are an employee-owned company. All our staff own the company. We don’t want to be making cuts in staffing levels. We’re really trying to make sure our patients get an amazing service.

“We try to think of other income streams. There are a lot of interesting, innovative services we are trying to expand, so we’re not over-relying on dispensing. We get a lot of private clinical services and we’ll keep expanding on that.
“We do education and training, we do post-graduate teaching as well as nurses, GPs. It’s not just community pharmacists. We have clinical practice pharmacists based in GP surgeries in a dozen practices and a GP Federation.”

The government’s Pharmacy Access Scheme also irks him. “This idea of clustering…it strikes me that they’re missing the point. It’s not about patient-centered care, it’s about geographical distances. I find that almost hypercritical. The Pharmacy Access Scheme goes against (the idea of patient-centred care).”

The future, Sanjay indicates, is far from bleak. “There are bits within Simon Stevens’ Five-Year Forward View which are pertinent to pharmacy. There are opportunities there for pharmacy to be innovative.

“Our entire business model is about trying to be innovative. The commissioning landscape has changed. We’ve had to evolve with that.”

He has some advice for other pharmacists and their teams fretting about where they are going to be in six months’ time. Or even if they are going to be around.

“Think about clinical professional services you can deliver. We are an amazing profession. We are the specialists in medicine and we need to maximise the uniqueness of that. It will involve investment in honing our clinical skills.

“We’re investing in our education and training and that can position you to make the most of the opportunities that come up in the commissioning landscape.”