Alphega Pharmacy Europe’s managing director Caitlin Sorrell speaks to P3 about developments across Europe that are heading to the UK

With winter ahead, a project that was trialled in France earlier this year by Alphega Pharmacy could come to the fore. The group has been trialling a throat swab, carried out in the pharmacy, that detects whether someone’s throat infection is bacterial or viral and whether or not that person needs antibiotics, says Alphega’s Caitlin Sorrell. This development could fit neatly with community pharmacy’s new national flu vaccination service this winter.

She says that the project has potential advantages for consumers and health services. ‘Why this is really important is two-fold: first because streptococcal throat infections can have serious health implications and it’s really important to detect them. This is also reducing visits to the GP and some unnecessary prescriptions and antibiotics.’

She continues: ‘It’s a really good service, which we can see is good for the consumer, could be a new source of revenue for pharmacists and helps with the public’s health. ‘We trialled it in France and then brought it to the UK last year. In the UK you have the added advantage of a pharmacist, with the right training, being able to prescribe antibiotics there and then, which in France they can’t do.’

Although the scheme is still in a trial phase, Alphega Pharmacy wants to look at the idea in the UK again this coming season, she says. The US links within Wallgreens Boots Alliance could also help in this area, she suggests. ‘What we’ve done with vaccination is nothing compared to what they’ve done with vaccination in the US. They’ve really driven services to patients very hard.’

‘In a market where the doctors are a cost to the patient, the pharmacist is an accessible and often affordable method of healthcare. We can learn lots and it’s just early days. In the US, Walgreens in particular make healthcare accessible, in otherwise healthcare-deprived areas. ‘There’s an awful lot that we could learn from there,’ says Ms Sorrell.

Other initiatives

Another project that could reach the UK is also being trialled, this time in Germany. ‘We can learn things from different markets, and a really good example of that at the moment is in Germany, where we are trialling an arterial age management project.’ This cardiovascular pulse wave tool, she explains, 'is a really good way of measuring arterial elasticity’.

‘Arterial elasticity is a really good precursor for cardiovascular issues, because you need elastic arteries. This is a really good example of something that we’re trying that would have potential for other markets.’ A majority of hands were up when pharmacists at the Alphega European Conference earlier this year were asked to indicate interest for the cardiovascular pulse wave project.

‘That just made me think we’re really moving forward, we’re really making progress,’ she says. French pharmacists will also be the first recipients of Alphega Pharmacy’s new e-commerce offering, currently in development. ‘We are launching an e-commerce click and collect service for France first and then later in the UK, with the intention of rolling it out across other markets.

We think this is a really good way of driving our brand awareness to consumers, whilst at the same time demonstrating our commitment to independent pharmacy. What we’ve done is create individual member websites. So, the consumer transacts with the pharmacist instead of Alphega and they have their name on the website as well as ours, in the same way as our facia works in the UK. In fact, we’ve tried to recreate our facia on the webpage.’

The group knows that consumers want that convenience and out of hours access, she says. ‘We already know that they’re really interested, because we get lots of hits on our website for healthcare information. But we know they’re frustrated when they find the solution, but they can’t move through to transact and buy the product that they need.’

Developing and maintaining their own e-commerce website is something that many community pharmacy businesses would not have the resource to do without such a partnership, she suggests. ‘It’s something that many independent pharmacies don’t have time to do on their own – to set up and maintain a product catalogue. When we did some focus groups they said it’s exactly what they need. So, we had to build a site that would be able to handle 6,000 sites across Europe.’

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