I knew I wanted to be a pharmacist at an early age – from about 13 years old. I was fascinated by the human body and how medicines worked. It wasn’t because of a family connection; they all worked in retail. But I started off in retail pharmacy, so maybe they did have an influence on me!
I studied at Nottingham University and began my career with Boots in Newcastle upon Tyne, and then in stores across North and East Yorkshire in the 1990’s. I’ve always been interested in technology and was excited to see pharmacy taking a more digital direction at the start of the millennium.
Pharmacy2U was founded by Daniel Lee in 1999 after he identified the need for modernisation of prescription delivery services in the UK. Online models were being used successfully in the US but were not encouraged by the UK at the time, to say the least, and Daniel swam against the tide to get Pharmacy2U started.
I jumped ship from Boots to Pharmacy2U in early 2000, which was a bit of a gamble – everything was very much hand-cranked, and we’d receive maybe one or two private prescriptions a week. It was quite a big deal, receiving a prescription! But they were exciting times – we really felt like we were pioneering and disrupting.
We were successful in our aim of being one of the three participants in the national ETP pilots (Electronic Transmission of Prescriptions) in 2002, which lead to the eventual release of EPS (the Electronic Prescription Service), which is now used for 80% of NHS prescriptions across 99.97% of English pharmacies. Without EPS, a distance selling pharmacy (DSP) would be a much more difficult operation to run, and DSP’s and dispensing hubs with efficient, cost effective processes are now finally recognised as being a valid way to complement front line, community based pharmacy services to the benefit of patients.
As well as being a pharmacist, over the years I’ve been involved in all sorts of projects and teams within the company, and I became our Medication Safety Officer in 2018, and our Superintendent Pharmacist this year. The challenge now is to maintain our excellent service and safety levels as we continue to scale up. It’s been exciting ever since the early times – every one of the 20 years I’ve been here has been quite different to the previous one, and it still feels like we’re pioneering and disrupting to this day.
We’ve had good times, and we’ve also had some challenging times, and we’ve faced criticism at times for our perception that we’re competing with local pharmacies but that’s not what we’re all about. We’re clear that we are a service that specialises in repeat prescriptions for patients who require delivery of regular medication every month. For patients with acute conditions and short-term requirements, the high street will always be the best option, and in fact, one of our main objectives is to be able to hand more time to community pharmacists to provide specialist advice and guidance to patients. We pride ourselves on the diligent checks we employ to screen new patients for requirements and vulnerabilities and will always recommend they use a local pharmacy if this is a more appropriate option. We also make great use of the data at our disposal to drive continuous improvement of both clinical accuracy and the customer service which we provide.
Right now we have over 300,000 patients and we’re dispensing around 600,000 items a month from our Leeds dispensing facility. With our sister company Chemist Direct, we employ around 350 people. We’re continuing to grow and are opening another dispensing facility in Leicestershire next year. We’re always looking for talented and motivated pharmacists to join us. “Online pharmacy” is an interesting career option – you won’t be administering flu jabs or talking to patients face to face, but here you will be performing clinical checks, communicating with patients using the telephone and other tools, assisting our wider clinical team, and there are several extra services that we can provide remotely, such as NMS and reconciling patients’ medicines after they are discharged from hospital. There are hundreds of DSP’s and “online pharmacies” in England now and I expect it’ll be a different experience working in each one, but it’s definitely a growing marketplace and one that you should consider if you’re both a fan of pharmacy and technology, like me!