As its pharmacies are rapidly rolling out rebranding and new values, community pharmacy needs to communicate differently with the NHS, the Well chain’s chief executive John Nuttall tells P3’s Carolyn Scott

Community pharmacy needs just one voice. It’s my stated intention to get us to work together; if that means knocking heads together, then I’ll play my part in making that happen 

The process of rebranding from Co-operative Pharmacy to Well, that began in March, is progressing at a rapid pace of 40 stores per week, says Well’s chief executive John Nuttall. The company is halfway through the rebrand, and a deadline of October – when the Co-operative Pharmacy brand expires – is “on track”, he says.

“We are genuinely delighted in our progress as a business since we were acquired by Bestway. We had a very ambitious timetable to separate the business from the Co-operative group: we are currently working through that transition, and that is, indeed, going ‘well’!” Emphasis is on the impact that store teams can make locally, he says, and he takes the opportunity to thank staff for their work.

“Through rebranding we are making a connection with customers, GPs and receptionists and creating a buzz, and it’s our store colleagues who are doing that.” The new name over the door and cosmetic updates, such as new lighting, are making an impact with customers, he says.

“Where we’ve rebranded we have seen an uplift in sales and in prescription volumes – so I think that speaks for itself. People say they are finding the new brand itself very uplifting. It’s clean and clinical and it’s attracting customers to our stores.”

Looking for a step change in pharmacy involvement

In fact, Well is looking for a ‘step change’ in the role that pharmacy plays in the NHS, says Mr Nuttall. There is much more that can be done. Like others, he says he had frustrations around this year’s funding settlement.

“While the settlement in itself was acceptable and it has been acknowledged that flu is something we can get behind, there wasn’t really the step change that we were looking for in how we need to move our relationship on with the NHS.” He was also disappointed that a national minor ailments service was not agreed.

“This was very disappointing, because a lot of work and effort had been put into establishing the credentials behind a minor ailments scheme and the value it can create. One wonders what we need to do as an industry to convince the NHS that we can actually deliver.” A change in the dynamic between pharmacy and the Department of Health is needed for the pharmacy sector to thrive, he suggests.

“I look to representative bodies, particularly PSNC and Pharmacy Voice, to use this disappointment as an opportunity to get together to really understand what we need to do to change the dynamic here. As a major employer, we are looking for a different and better conversation with the NHS around the future. And we would look to the bodies that we support through our funding, to collectively work together to make this happen.”

So, if he could resolve one issue overnight – what would that be? “I’d like to have one representative body for pharmacy talking to NHS stakeholders, which would mean combining all of the current representative bodies. It would be perfect solution to a long-term problem that the sector has had.” Community pharmacy needs to progress towards just one voice, believes Mr Nuttall.

“It’s my stated intention to get us to work together; if that means knocking heads together, then I’ll play my part in making that happen.” “I think that we are not joined up in our thinking or our representation or talking to people at the right level. While I’m not suggesting for a minute that PSNC or Pharmacy Voice aren’t doing a good job, I think they can do more. Why split your resources across two teams when you can have one?”

Could this ever happen, we ask. “Let’s watch this space,” he says.

Potential policy impact

Other issues that Well has in its sights include the government’s plans for a seven-day service for the NHS and changes to the minimum wage. Government needs to recognise the potential impact of such changes and respond accordingly, says Mr Nuttall. Both initiatives could have a significant impact on pharmacy businesses and the sector needs to be talking about this, he says.

“One long-term thing that everybody needs to have on their horizon is, if the stated intention of David Cameron and his team is that we have a seven-day NHS, then what does that mean for pharmacy – and what does that mean for pharmacy funding? And, if George Osborne wants to have a living wage, then what does that mean for the conversation around pharmacy funding as well?”

The numbers “simply don’t add up” where pharmacy is concerned, he says, “so we will be looking to government to support those initiatives with adequate resource behind it”. “It’s about acknowledging that businesses have to make a fair return on investment”, he says.

“If you regulate to increase the wage bill – of course this is for all the right reasons – then you are going to impact on the returns. If the returns fall below a correct balance for a business, then you may find that people won’t want to invest. So, that’s the conversation we need to have.”

 

Working well

Behind the Well rebrand is new guidance for stores on company culture and values. “‘Human’, ‘Effectiveness’ and ‘Expert’ are the three pillars that we are embedding in the organisation across every store, and people are bringing that to life in different ways,” explains Mr Nuttall. “

Our colleagues’ responses to this have been tremendous. Some people baked cakes on their ‘Well’ day and we even had a store team who recorded a song. It’s been brilliant,” he says. Bringing out the expertise of community pharmacy is central to Well.

“The ‘expert’ theme is about acknowledging and reflecting and rewarding the fact that we are health experts and for us to be championing that across the UK. I think that pharmacy does a fantastic job, but sometimes it’s not recognised in the way it needs to be. So, we need to do our bit to push that.”

The ‘Human’ aspect of the strategy reflects how people matter in the business, and ‘Effective’ is about being “more effective and more commercial”. “Some of the processes that we had before are not appropriate now, so we are streamlining what we are asking our stores to do at the sharp end,” he adds.

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