Just how easy is it to start a pharmacy in the UK? Of course there are procedures, rules and regulations that need to be followed . But, I hope this short guide will aim to dispel any myths and misconceptions and simplify the process for you.
I will assume that you have already crossed off every option in your buying a pharmacy checklist, but have decided perhaps the financials are too much, or have failed to find a suitable business. And so, you will be aiming to apply for a new NHS dispensing contract.
Timescales and costs
While the route to buying a pharmacy can seem more straightforward, the financial cost to setting up a new pharmacy, can be minimal in comparison. Around £1,500 is all it takes to get the NHS contract and register the premises, just make an application to your local NHS area team. However, the crucial factor here is it can be a long process – the NHS contract application and fitness to practice considerations could take several months and this could be extended further if the application is appealed.
Add to that, if you need planning application, you’ll need to add another 2-3 months. Then once granted, you’ll have 6 months to open the pharmacy.
Will my application be successful?
This is largely dependent on the area. When you submit the application to the NHS Area team, they will assessed against the Pharmaceutical Needs Assessment for that area which are prepared by the Primary Care Trust or Health and Wellbeing Board.
What they will be looking for is that the area meets a need in the area for all or some of the services being specified in the application, or provides improvements or better access to those pharmaceutical services. That’s as long as you pass the fitness to practice regulations.
Its all very well opening a pharmacy from scratch and knowing that it meets the needs of the area. But is it going to be profitable? Generally, you want to have around 3,300 – 3,500 customers just to get a 7-13% net profit.
So the crucial part will be where the patients will be coming from – if there are GP surgeries in the area this will work in your favour, especially if yours will be the closest pharmacy to them. As generally patients will go to the closest pharmacy. However, there will be patients on regular repeats who are loyal to an estabkished pharmacy. To get this base of customers, you must give them a reason to change their habits and come to your pharmacy instead. Things like offering collection and delivery and undertaking a wide range of pharmacy services will allow you to stand out from the competition.
Fitting out the pharmacy
Rents and rates will be determined largely by location and the size of the premises. In addition, you’ll need pharmacy equipment, an alarm system, phone lines, furniture, POS system and IT systems (along with PMR software) and you will need in the region of £100,000+. Stock will be needed, but due to twice daily deliveries by the main wholesalers, it won’t need to be too extensive.
Up to 4,999 items, 56 working hours will be enough to cover this, and should be manageable by one pharmacist. However, especially in the initial stages, you will probably need a locum to cover your hours, while you actively try to generate some business via marketing. Another key issue is should you take on staff, you will need to allow time for training and there may be some issues getting everyone up to speed with the processes.
To summarise, don’t expect to be able to open a pharmacy overnight! The process is bound to take many months from start to finish, and while overall it would be cheaper than buying a pharmacy at the same level of turnover, the work and processes to get it to that level will be longer and perhaps more difficult. However, if you come across a location where you see a desperate need for a new pharmacy and can justify it financially with a good, solid business plan, there should not be a reason why you won’t be able to start a pharmacy in that area.