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PM Questions: Daniel Lee

The recent purchase of the Pharmacy Group by HubRx gives chief executive Daniel Lee the opportunity to show how his hub and spoke model for independent community pharmacy will work. So what are his plans for the future and what are the next steps for the Yorkshire chain and HubRx?

Daniel Lee has been lured back into the community pharmacy fold with the purchase of the Pharmacy Group — a medium-sized chain of 33 pharmacies in Yorkshire.

“It is a local pharmacy group that I’m very familiar with and we actually go back decades,” says Lee. “As part of the deal, Jason Lestner, the son of the previous owner, will join the board and take the role of chief operating officer. His grandfather and my pharmacist father used to be in competition locally in East Leeds.” 

Rebranded as Pharmacy+Health, Lee’s strategy is for the group to deliver the widest range of NHS and private clinical services in community pharmacy.

“I strongly believe that pharmacists have the ability to do so much more in their locality to support health improvement, the local health economy and the local NHS. I’ve had that belief reaffirmed many times, meeting pharmacists and key clinical workers within branches who all want to upskill to offer more clinical services and not just be tied to the dispensing bench,” he says. 

Pharmacy+Health pharmacies will become the first in the UK to use the HubRx hub and spoke automated dispensing facility, with Lee aiming to “challenge the perception of what a community pharmacy can offer, how it should look, and how it operates”.

“Shifting the emphasis from dispensing – and retail – will free up our pharmacists to provide a wide selection of on-demand clinical services that can be booked online, and will turn our pharmacies into the destination of choice for patients seeking consultations and treatment for everyday health conditions,” he explains. 

Phased transformation

Beginning with a phased transformation plan starting at branches in Leeds, Normanton and Ilkley, the pharmacies will be rebranded and the latest technologies installed to make the shift from a dispensing-led to a clinical-led service with more consultation space. 

“Our unique selling point is that the clinical service drivers empower the branch, the pharmacist and the clinical team to do more with more, and allow patients to book these appointments. Ultimately, it is about trying to monetise pharmacists’ time but give them more upside on that as well,” he adds.

With hub and spoke secondary legislation still to appear after the public consultation, Lee calls the delay in allowing independent pharmacies to access hub and spoke dispensing “very frustrating”.

“We are still waiting for the output from the public consultation, and those delays are having significant impacts on our ability to commercialise the hub so that other independents can use it,” he says. 

However, those operating as a single legal entity, such as Pharmacy+Health, are able to use hub and spoke before the legislation is passed – which was another driver behind the purchase.

“If we can prove that this works, then we want to share it with everybody – it is not just for us”

On a mission

“We have already got three Pharmacy+Health branches with RxWeb that are using the hub and we are rolling out across the rest of the group in earnest,” says Lee. 

“When the secondary legislation is passed, HubRx will then be able to free up prescription dispensing time for upwards of 200 independent community pharmacies and is capable of dispensing up to 12 million items per year.

“We are on a mission to do this because we can’t just allow the hub to be mothballed and not utilise the software, the systems and the investment that we’ve made over the past three years to get this ready,” he adds. 

“We have real-life case studies and we can absolutely prove that margins are better, the automation is accurate, these systems work and that patients have a better experience, and we can support their requirements in the locality.” 

In the meantime, as well as providing access to a range of NHS and private services for everyday health conditions in Pharmacy+Health branches, Daniel Lee cautiously welcomes the forthcoming Pharmacy First common ailments offering, calling it “the thin end of a big opportunity”. 

“It is a start but for me it goes hand in glove with allowing hub and spoke,” he says, “otherwise how are pharmacists supposed to be able to create capacity when they are already massively under pressure? 

“Yes, it is money that has been promised by the end of the year, and we know it has worked very well in Scotland and Wales, but definitely the devil will be in the detail of the service specification. It would certainly help a lot more if we can take away a lot of the standard day-to-day dispensing from within branch.”

Future challenges

Lee’s vision of re-engineering community pharmacy is well known, but the acquisition of Pharmacy+Health will create a publicly visible showcase for a certain type of automation and a template for others to emulate. 

“We want to create a blueprint other independent pharmacies can follow, using hub and spoke to free up capacity and enable them to expand into more profitable clinical services,” he says. “If we can prove that this works, then we want to share it with everybody – it is not just for us.”

Yet as well as the enabling legislation, there is another hurdle to get over. “What we have found is that independents tend to be risk averse, so just influencing them may potentially not be enough,” he says. “They have been wedded to dispensing and the income derived from it for so long that to take the next step and make that investment feels like stepping into unknown. 

“Our hope is that us doing it first will show how automation can reduce costs and enable the upskilling of the workforce to offer clinical services in a clinical setting – and others will want to get on board. I’ve spent the last two decades pioneering change within pharmacy; I started my career in community pharmacy and I want to see it thrive once again.” 

Would you be interested in using the HubRx model? Tell us at:


Daniel Lee started out in community pharmacy before moving into the online sector with Pharmacy2U and then launching HubRx, the automated hub and spoke facility for independent pharmacies. His latest venture adds the 33-strong Pharmacy Group chain in Yorkshire to the wider HubRx operation.

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