Every Saturday for the past 11 years, Richard Hough has worked at Tytherington Pharmacy in Macclesfield, one of a chain of four pharmacies run by independent proprietor, Andrew Hodgson.
“I do it because I love the patient interaction,” explains Hough, “but it’s also useful for my work as a lawyer. I don’t want to give up on 26 years of my life to focus solely on law and I still want to keep my pharmacy competence up to feel effective at what I do. If I stopped working in the pharmacy, I’d lose that and it would be a long way back.”
Hough qualified as a pharmacist in 1990 and as a lawyer in 2007. He believes that this dual role differentiates him from almost every other legal adviser in the market: “It brings a common interest to the client/lawyer relationship, which helps cement it, and that’s invaluable. A lot of pharmacists are wary of suited advisers, so it’s great to be able to say, ‘I’m one of you and your fears are my fears’. It’s not just lip service.”
Hough sat O-levels at 14 years old, A-levels at 16 and was awarded a degree in pharmacy from Manchester University aged just 19.
After a stint as a locum and then taking on various management positions, he lived in Australia for a couple of years, taking residency, and got onto the register of New South Wales pharmacists and practising pharmacy in Sydney.
He returned to the UK in 1996. “I recommenced working as a manager for a guy who owned four pharmacies. But then he got an offer to sell up to the Co-op and I found myself at a career crossroad,” he explains. “I knew I was looking for something that I wasn’t going to find entirely in pharmacy, so in 2000 I signed up for an Open University law degree, which I undertook while working more than 60 hours a week running a busy health centre pharmacy.”
Hough achieved first class honours in his law degree, graduated top of his year of 3,000 students, and was offered a couple of trainee lawyer positions with national and international firms. He chose Cobbetts in Manchester, where he worked for two years after completing a post-graduate degree in legal practice at the University of Law in Chester. During his time at Cobbetts, he decided that he wanted to mix his pharmacy background with his newly acquired legal skills.
“I formulated a business plan and took it round the large commercial law firms in Manchester with a view to combining pharmacy with law,” he says. “Despite there being a lot of interest in the plan, it took about a year before one of the firms, which are intrinsically risk averse, bought into it. In 2008, I joined Brabners, where I started putting the plan into practice.”
Hough’s insider’s view means he can act for his pharmacy clients with a real understanding of the challenges they are facing, which he says fall into two main categories.
“The first is that there is still an appetite for young entrepreneurial pharmacists to get into the market, with many of them thinking as long as there is a system that allows them to put in an application to get on the pharmaceutical list they’d rather do that than acquire a pharmacy through purchasing one,” he explains.
“The second, which we have seen more enquiries about in recent months, is from established pharmacy proprietors or owners who are saying the funding cuts and Category M clawback is going to hit them so hard they are thinking it is time to get out of the market and put their pharmacies up for sale while the accounts still show profitability.”
Hough emphasises that these remain “uncertain times for pharmacy” plus he and his colleagues also have their own challenge of keeping on top of pharmacy law.
“We always have enquiries around the control of entry regulations and the pharmacy contract so the challenge for us is to understand the law and how it’s applied by the various NHS England local area teams and, at the appeal stage, the NHS Litigation Authority.”
“We also advise registrants on fitness to practise matters,” Hough adds. “This means when the [UK pharmacy regulator] General Pharmaceutical Council brings proceedings against a pharmacist client, we will ensure that they get a fair hearing.
“Often numerous allegations are made against the registrant. Some may have substance, others not. It is our job to ensure that witnesses’ accounts are challenged when in dispute and that if an allegation is to have any merit, robust evidence substantiates it. This isn’t always the case, so we do our best to ensure that our client is dealt with in accordance with the relevant laws and regulations, substantiated through evidence.”
Brabners has offices in Preston, Liverpool and Manchester and, about a year ago, Hough moved from his historic base in the Liverpool office and to spend more time in Manchester developing the commercial law offering from there.
“As there is a big tech community around Manchester, one of my tasks is to drive that forward for the firm while still pushing the traditional healthcare offering,” he says. “I’m now helping clients focus on combining healthcare with technology, which is a niche area and a growth industry, so my reach is spreading geographically and on a sector level.” Nonetheless, Hough is adamant that he will continue working as a pharmacist because he enjoys the patient contact.