Q. Why did you decide to set up a travel service in your pharmacy?
We started focusing on travel health five years ago. It was motivated by looking to the future and wanting to make sure the business was well balanced and not having such an over-reliance on the NHS. These problems have been going on for the past 10 years and they’re certainly not getting any better. The split between NHS and OTC has been falling for a number of years, and I wanted to start to redress that balance. Services are key to this. We are in such a fantastic position to take advantage of the clinical need that exists in many areas. It’s a win-win.
Services such as travel health are good for our businesses, yes, but also for the NHS as a whole, because it does things like freeing up GPs’ time. It’s also great for our customer base, who benefit from quality services being delivered in a convenient way.
Q. What approach did you take in setting this up?
We chose to run the service via a PGD rather than being tied to a company that directs clients to us. The PGD gives you more freedom. I think it’s good to have your own identity, rather than being linked with a provider. We’ve seen a healthy response. It’s not been straightforward or easy, but it is definitely something that can be built up and, if you have the right team and backing, you can build on it quite quickly.
We’re doing a lot with the travel vaccination service, but I am aiming to do much more. I wouldn’t say we’re the best in the country, but we do get incredible responses to our travel offering. The reviews on our NHS Choices page are really positive, and people seem to be really happy with the service.
Q. Has the service been affected by the Maloff switch?
It’s certainly been interesting, and I’ve found the launch quite useful. I think Maloff has helped generally in raising awareness of pharmacy-led travel services – the more it is advertised, the more people will go looking for other services. It forges a stronger association in customers’ minds between pharmacy and travel health. The more that people get to hear about travel health in pharmacy, the more they will use us.
Q. What’s key in a good travel health consultation?
You need to go through every aspect of the person’s travel itinerary, their health and whether they’re on medication or not. Sometimes people’s travel itineraries are quite complex with more than one country to be visited, so where and when they’re travelling has to be taken into consideration. Their GP may need to be contacted to find out about previous vaccinations and possible health issues.
All of this will have a bearing on the types of treatment you might suggest, right down to where they’re staying and what they’re getting up to on the holiday itself.
The advice you give to people will be different. People in their 50s or 60s travelling to a five-star hotel might not have the same risk profile as somebody who’s backpacking, camping and doing extreme sports. Some people do take a risk when they go on holiday or they don’t fully understand the risk that they take by not having or following the correct advice. Even when people do get the correct advice, they may still take a risk. For example, they might be going back to their home country and think they have immunity. There are one or two customers who didn’t take our advice and then came back from their travels and said they wished they had because they’d contracted something.
Q. Do you have plans to develop the service further?
There are some things I have in mind, but as yet I’ve not formulated a proper plan. One thing I would like to do more of is advertising the service within the community. We have a website; we also get business from word of mouth; and staff are also constantly telling people about it. We’ve also recently started a campaign with local practices. However, we could stand to improve our efforts.
Q What advice do you have for other contractors?
Be proactive and go out there and look for things. It doesn’t have to be travel. It might be another service. Of course, one of the issues is time. If you’re going to do something like this, you’ve got to make the time to fit it in. Plan for that would be the best advice, as, initially, there’s a good deal of learning that you need to do. It might not all come off straightaway, so you might need to be patient while the service develops. Part of that is making sure you have some good goals set for your future and you don’t lose motivation. It’s a lot of effort, but the rewards can be great and you can win some good customers.
Q Think of an issue facing the pharmacy sector. What do you suggest pharmacies do to cope with this?
The key issue we face is funding, and in the wake of that, how to ensure that businesses are more balanced. I see our way of doing this as trying to upskill and making sure the staffing level is there so that the pharmacist can be free to get on with other things. It’s really about keeping an eye on the overall business.
Terry Reid talks us through his team’s approach.
“We’ve got a very strong ethos of making sure the team acts and behaves in a particular way. We’re very strong on making sure people are confident and informed about everything. All the team have access to all the KPIs within the business. We have regular briefing meetings where we discuss any challenges we face and how we can move on and improve. We offer lots of development opportunities and whether they choose to take on more responsibilities or not, they are encouraged to think of themselves as leaders. Every member of the team is trained in every aspect of the pharmacy and, of course, that extends to travel health. We won four awards last year, including our second Investors in People Gold Award, so we’re doing something right.”