A £1.5m drug dispensing facility, which claims it will help 15 million people in the UK living with long-term conditions manage their medicinal needs by using a smartphone app, has been opened in Liverpool.
But the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has expressed concerns that such a facility could hit traditional high street community pharmacies.
Now Healthcare Group, which provides the ‘Now Patient’ repeat prescription app, said its ‘telepharmacy’, called Now Pharmacy, will be able to dispense around 500,000 prescriptions per month using robotics and will employ pharmacists to check the medicines before they are sent out to patients.
The company has said that the “demise of high street pharmacies” was having a “huge impact” on vulnerable people living in rural communities and that by delivering to all areas of the UK, Now Pharmacy will be providing a solution for those patients and will help to save “millions of hours of time taken off for doctor and pharmacy visits”.
Lee Dentith, chief executive and founder of Now Healthcare, said the company’s app had been downloaded over 30,000 times and has been number one in Apple’s App Store. He said his eventual plans included opening a larger “Amazon-style hub” for medicines dispensing in the UK.
“The NHS is evolving and digital innovation is crucial to offering patients quality care and choice,” he said.
“We’re offering a new way for patients to either choose or embrace, or they can stick to the traditional [bricks and mortar pharmacy].
Now Patient works using the NHS’s Electronic Prescription Service and, according to its website, the company will liaise directly with the patient’s GP to get the prescription signed off to finalise their order.
Dentith said his firm was the first and only telehealth company in the world to have its own telepharmacy.
Sandra Gidley, chair of the RPS English Pharmacy Board, expressed concern that an expansion of services like Now Pharmacy could lead to more community pharmacy closures.
“This is detrimental to the public having easy access to good medical advice, which is particularly important in deprived areas,’ she said.
“At a time when community pharmacy should be poised to be the front line of healthcare, this commercial venture is unhelpful to attempts to better integrate community pharmacy into primary care networks.”
She added that, while the benefits of Now Pharmacy focus on ease of supply, community pharmacists provide a range of services in addition to an efficient supply service, “which doesn’t rely on the vagaries of our postal service”.