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Be prepared for the unthinkable

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Be prepared for the unthinkable

The UK is not immune from threat and businesses need to plan for disruption. Done correctly, planning could strengthen a pharmacy over rivals who do nothing. As the City of York notes on its website, “disasters have no boundaries, and whether you are a small or large business you may be affected.”

The first step is to understand the business in terms of the potential threats to its normal operation. Look at every aspect, and think about the people you employ, what you need to operate and how you serve customers.

While some threats to your business may seem improbable, you should consider natural disasters; theft or vandalism; fire; power cuts; fuel shortages; IT or telecoms system failure; restricted access to premises; loss or illness of key staff; outbreaks of disease or infection; crises affecting suppliers; crises affecting your business’ reputation; or terrorist attack. All have happened and could happen again.

Some risks you can ignore, while others you accept, but set up a mutual arrangement with a neighbour to help each other out; or you lower all risks and become self-sufficient.

However you approach it, ensure your plan is written in simple language so everyone can understand it. Guidance on planning is available via free software called Robust, available at

Contemplate where you can build redundancy into the business, without adding too much extra cost. Whilst there’s no point renting a spare building or equipment just in case, especially for a community pharmacy, knowing where you can rent certain pieces of equipment may save the day. 

Equipment – especially IT – can fail. The hard drive in your computer, for example, has a ‘mean time before failure’ rating – how long it should operate before it fails. But it may fail sooner. You need to back up your data regularly, at least once a day, and keep the backup offsite.

Communication is critical. This is especially acute if your telephone system is VoiP (internet) rather than a traditional line. Plan to use alternatives. Is there someone with a wireless connection with whom you can agree a reciprocal piggyback arrangement if the broadband fails? Consider a 4G dongle or a mobile phone plan that comes with plenty of data. Have phones on different networks in case one fails.

Look at filing documents electronically. Fast double-sided automatic scanners will turn paper into PDF files that can be backed up and placed in a searchable archive on your computer. You’ll also be able to store the originals elsewhere at a less expensive location and further spread the risk of loss.

Insurance must 'do's 

Never skip on insurances and don’t forget to note down the policy details, keeping them offsite. Apart from the obvious – premises, stock, vehicles, public and employer’s liability – look at:

Directors and officers insurance: covers negligence when running a business

Business interruption insurance: will keep a business alive following a catastrophe

Keyman insurance: provides money following the death of a key person to the surviving business partner(s) to buy out the estate of the deceased

Critical illness cover: pays out following the diagnosis of defined serious illness

Permanent health insurance: pays an income where the insured can no longer work.

Having good polices and risk assessing threats may help lower your insurance premiums on the basis that you present a lower risk. For example, by writing a bad weather policy both you and your staff know the effort level expected when trying to get into work and the pay/leave arrangements for when they can’t.

Draw up a list of emergency contacts. Include key staff, utilities, employment agencies and key suppliers. Work out how to divert your calls if you cannot access the building. Remember also details of your accountant, solicitor and the tax / VAT office. Don’t forget neighbouring businesses and surgeries in case they need to be informed.

Finally, you need to both test the plan and keep it up to date. See where – if – the plan falls over; remember that it’s a live document that needs regular updating.

Further useful information can be found in the Business Continuity Institute's Good Practice Guide on the Institute's website
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