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Bricks & mortar and online both have a role to play

Don’t be afraid of change – engage with it instead, says Jay Badenhorst, NPA board member and managing director of Whitworth Chemists.

Non-essential retail businesses re-opened earlier this month. Lockdown has driven more consumers online, and it remains to be seen how quickly, or to what extent, the high street will recover.

Online spending in the UK recently hit a record proportion of 35 per cent of all sales – up from approximately 20 per cent in 2019.

It is clear that the pandemic has accelerated an existing trend and that the advance of online sales and services will continue into the future. New consumer habits have been formed and will become permanent for many people. That applies in pharmacy as in all other sectors.

Bricks and mortar and online can no longer be seen as an either-or zero-sum equation. Pharmacies can provide a responsive, personal, face-to-face service in the community and add the convenience of online ordering and digital communication with patients.

While digital technology is a growing feature of all health services, productive relationships and good clinical care sometimes rely on being able to see the whites of people’s eyes.

Unable to cope

Pharmacies embedded in the community remain, for most people, the first port of call for healthcare advice and treatment. When you think of what pharmacies have done during the pandemic, it is obvious that the NHS would not have been able to cope without an accessible network of community pharmacies located near to where people live, work and shop.

Local pharmacies will always need to be the beating heart of pharmaceutical care, as they are also a key component of public health and primary care.

Close at hand

People still want a healthcare professional close at hand, especially when they are at a moment of transition in their illness and their treatment. National polling by the NPA last year found that 74 per cent want locally-based pharmacies to be better integrated with other services, operating as neighbourhood health and wellbeing centres and providing face-to-face advice.

NPA members have increasingly diversified their ways of working to include online elements and it is our duty to help them navigate these changing times. It is why the NPA has established the Online Pharmacy Services Group, which I chair, to share insights into the issues affecting our members that have online offerings. It will benefit the whole of our membership to develop a clear, shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities ahead.

In 2021 we are marking the NPA’s centenary. That is a reminder to me about just how much has changed over the years and that we mustn’t be afraid of change. We have to engage with it and make the most of the opportunities it provides, for our businesses and our patients, because that is the surest way to ensure that the ‘community’ in ‘community pharmacy’ is here to stay.

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