How communication and collaboration will help us to succeed as a sector

Following on from the first AAH Leadership Live event, McKesson UK CEO Toby Anderson talks about challenges, concerns and creating a sustainable future.

Unprecedented. It’s a word we’ve heard far too often this year, but I think we’d all agree that the last eight months have been just that. Throwing a global pandemic into the mix at a time when community pharmacy was already experiencing significant challenges was not something any of us were prepared for. But it has, without a doubt, been community pharmacy’s finest hour and shifted perception in both the eyes of the community and the Government. But now what? We went live on the eve of lockdown 2.0 with our first-of-its-kind AAH customer event to discuss just that.

So much has changed in 2020 but for us, one thing remains consistent – our commitment to our wholesale customers. The challenges of the pandemic have affected all businesses, but particularly small business owners, and we appreciate how difficult things have been recently. AAH has already played a fundamental part in supporting these customers, and we’ve shown our resilience even when faced with supply chain issues and an outbreak of COVID-19 in our Glasgow warehouse. But they have also stood by us, and as a multifaceted healthcare organisation we recognise there is so much more we can do to help our customers navigate these turbulent times. Their success comes from our success, so we asked some of our customers to join our senior leaders to have an open discussion about challenges, concerns and the future of the sector.

With Brexit now looming it’s something that’s understandably one of the next big challenges on our minds. For us, COVID-19 has been a stress test. It’s given us the opportunity to evaluate how we can do business better. We could never have foreseen a situation whereby we’d sell more paracetamol in one month than we had in the previous two years but our learnings from these types of situations have helped us to develop a robust business contingency plan and become more agile. Our priority will always be maintaining the safe and steady supply of medicines and we now know that we can confidently move work across our network as and when we need to. We’ve spent a considerable amount of time over the last few months working with manufacturers to put in place long term contracts that will help us to forecast and plan better to improve availability and minimise the impact of shortages. We’ve also invested an eight-figure sum in our wholesale business to improve our quota management systems and online ordering platforms. Our focus is on increasing efficiencies to make it easier for our customers to do business with us, especially when faced with difficult circumstances.

And when it comes to making things easier for our customers, that’s an approach we take across our entire organisation. It’s clear our customers have concerns when it comes to digital expansion, but they also appreciate its importance. We know the modern consumer values choice and convenience and we must adapt to meet their needs. Omnichannel is another word we use a lot, but it’s becoming the foundation for how we do business. It’s not digital OR bricks and mortar pharmacy, we need both. We have a national network of clinical professionals that provide face-to-face support in our pharmacies and we also have an online service that patients can use to get their repeat medicines delivered and remind them when they need to take and re-order them. Echo is the technology that complements what our pharmacy teams do in the heart of their communities and we will continue to explore how we can make our technology and solutions available to our customers within the complex regulatory landscape.

But it’s not just digital expansion that’s increasing in importance. Growing services is also a key focus area, but the two go hand-in-hand. If we’re to shift from script to clinical services, our pharmacy teams need to have time to focus on the face-to-face services only they can provide and that’s where online services and automated dispensing hubs can help. It’s important we begin to make strides in moving from a ‘fix on fail’ healthcare system to a prevention strategy and we do that by becoming more integrated with the NHS. If we can go after the services in the five-year contract and stop thinking in separate buckets, we will transform primary care. Yes, the sector is currently under substantial pressure and yes, we need to address government funding, but we also need to make this moment in the spotlight count. With GP Community Pharmacy Consultation Service coming down the line and a COVID-19 vaccination rollout on the horizon, huge opportunities lie ahead for the sector.

As we look to the future, two key themes appear to be the bedrock for the coming months – collaboration and communication. We want the sector to succeed and that means helping our wholesale customers to succeed. By listening to, working with and supporting our customers, and communicating, collaborating and sharing more as a sector, I’m confident that together, we will continue to demonstrate the value we provide to our communities and the NHS and build a sustainable future.

Our Superintendent Pharmacist Steve Howard shared a quote with our customers that felt incredibly relevant:

“I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving – we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it – but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.”

2020 has been the toughest year pharmacy has ever experienced but there is optimism for the future, and if we ‘sail’ together, we will make community pharmacy great again.

A heartfelt thank you to all our pharmacy customers for their ongoing commitment to our business and for taking the time to be part of our first AAH Leadership Live event.