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Digital pharmacy sets sights on expansion with £10m funding

Phlo plans to set up more city dispensing hubs after Series A announcement

Phlo describes itself as itself as the first UK digital pharmacy to offer patients same-day medication delivery via its hubs in Birmingham and London, with a third site in Manchester to come online this year. In February, it announced £10m in Series A funding, which it plans to put towards upscaling its services. Chief commercial officer Adam Hunter speaks to P3pharmacy

P3pharmacy: How did the idea for Phlo come about?

Adam Hunter: Our founder Nadeem Sarwar has diabetes and he had challenges accessing medication on a regular basis due to his busy lifestyle. He thought there may be a different way of dispensing and delivering medication, and leveraging technology to achieve that. We launched in January 2020, not knowing that a few months later, the world would change. The pandemic was a real test of the business, but it also allowed us to reach patients who may not have been necessarily willing to use technology whose habits were now changing. 

Instead of having one mail order hub like the majority of online pharmacies, we have smaller city hubs that are closer to the patient and provide what we believe is a more reliable and convenient service with people on bikes and scooters delivering medication to the patient at a time slot of their choosing Monday to Sunday, particularly in London and Birmingham. We also have a mail order service because we’re required to as a distance selling pharmacy under NHS regulations. So while you’re not going to see Phlo in Padstow, we can still reach patient groups in the more rural areas.

Our approach has been slightly different from our competitors in that we’re a technology business that happens to operate in the pharmacy space. We have a dedicated team of pharmacists and clinicians who run our pharmacies, and then a full- time team of software developers, designers, product owners, marketeers and a commercial team. Our Trustpilot reviews are testament to the work we do to improve patient experience.

They can see in real time whether we have the stock or not when they place their order, whereas with a community pharmacy or another online provider, you don’t know in advance.

P3: How do patients access Phlo? 

AH: We have our own back-end technology platform that allows us to manage all the prescriptions in a seamless way. We then have patient facing applications that patients can access via app or browser.

P3: How many NHS patient nominations do you have?

AH: I believe we are more than 10,000 repeat patients and across the board we have around 20-25,000, including private patients, but I’d need to double check that.

P3: How does ordering work?

AH: Again, it’s about leveraging technology. From our patient base, we have a rough estimate of what our repeat volumes are going to be, which allows us to use predictive buying and stockholding based on historical ordering patterns of our patient base. Unfortunately, if there’s a massive supply chain issue, we’re affected just like every other pharmacy.

P3: If I sign up as a new patient today, what are the chances you will have my medicine in stock and can dispense it to me today?

AH: That’s the ideal scenario. The unknown quantity in all this is the GP authorisation; some are quicker than others.

P3: Community pharmacies are often wary of the practices used by some online pharmacies. What is Phlo’s message to them?

AH: The pharmacy sector is an incredibly undervalued service in this country, whether it’s a bricks and mortar or online pharmacy, and to have both sides trying to spin things one way or another isn’t helpful. I think we should be operating as one sector because we are all under the same pressures, whether that’s NHS funding, salaries, medicines prices or other business costs.

I think ultimately the way pharmacy is probably going to change in England – based on what we see in the media and the hub and spoke legislation – is that the existing pharmacy network will pivot away from the dispensing and delivery of medication towards providing a frontline healthcare service. There needs to be a new pharmacy package put together that emphasises and incentivises bricks and mortar pharmacies to focus solely on services and work with companies like us who can then dispense and deliver medication to a wider part of the community. 

P3: Do you plan to have dispensing hubs in every major UK city?

AH: This money for us is about continued investment in our technology platform – that’s what allows us to scale up in an efficient way. And yes, we want to continue investing in our city hubs in England, as well as investing in our team. 

P3: Have you set patient nomination targets for the next year, five years and so on?

AH: For us, it’s not necessarily about target growth rates; our growth is always contingent on being able to provide a safe and reliable experience to our patients, and we will grow in line with demand. Of course, we want to become a major player in the market, but we haven’t exactly put a number on that just yet.

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