We meet formidable Alitam member Prakash Patel

Prakash Patel is something of a phenomenon. He’s the owner of 6 pharmacies in Essex and London which far outperform the local competition; winner of a plethora of industry awards; early adopter of game-changing technology; and an advocate for a much wider clinical role for pharmacies. Add to all this his 40 years experience as a cherished community pharmacist, and you have a force to be reckoned with.

Technology is key

Prakash works tirelessly across all his branches to ensure he and his team serve customers with the best healthcare possible. And technology is key. “The objective of installing high-tech solutions is to free up staff to spend more time with customers,” he says. “The Hub and Spoke system, together with our Monitored Dosage dispensing robot, saves up to 5 hours of staff time a day. Whereas previously I had 10 staff engaged in dispensing, now I need just two. The other 8 are available to engage with customers, often through our latest innovation, the Medispot video consultation system. We’ve seen a very high uptake of this in just 2 months, it offers far more than a call to the NHS 111 line. Patients have an in-depth video consultation with our pharmacist which, being video-based, is really helpful for a patient presenting with a skin complaint, for instance. We can often suggest the right treatment and, if it’s late at night, direct them to a pharmacy which is still open. It’s revolutionary, it relieves so much suffering and worry. All without the need for trips to the GP or hospital.” Prakash also uses a robot dispensing system to ensure his local nursing homes are quickly and accurately served with the palliative care medication they need.

Adopting a clinical approach

Furthermore, Prakash hosts an impressive array of clinical services in his stores. “I know from my work with the PSNC (Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee) of the mounting pressure on the NHS to serve an ageing population, many of whom have complex care needs,” he explains. “We need to do all we can. Offering clinical services in store benefits everyone: people get the healthcare they require; hospitals and GPs are under less pressure; we can be of more service to our community and benefit as a business.” He continues, “It costs the government £14 for a patient consultation with a pharmacist. But if a patient goes straight to A&E, it costs them £110 an hour. If that patient needs a bed, that’s a cost of £580 a night. So we’re talking about enormous savings for the NHS if we can harness the clinical strengths of pharmacists.”

This commitment to a more clinical role is taken extremely seriously by Prakash and his team. “To date we are the top performing flu vaccinator in our area, we undertake three times as many consultations with patients as our local competitors, and we are vaccinating 400 people a week against Covid-19. We’re even about to introduce childhood immunisations. Of course we also offer all the health checks, for diabetes and cholesterol and so on. This sort of walk-in service is absolutely the way forward. Now we have millennials with working lifestyles which don’t suit the traditional GP surgery opening hours. There will be more and more need for on-demand healthcare in the years to come.”

The time is now

“Future-proofing pharmacies has to happen now,” says Prakash. “During the pandemic, pharmacy proved itself to be more relevant than ever. We’ve shown the government and the public just how valuable we are. We now rank in the top 3 trusted professions in the UK. And yet we face fierce competition from internet-based pharmacies. It’s a miracle that Alitam was born, because now we will take on all challenges, and pivot towards more automation and in-house clinical services. This, together with our caring, face-to-face interaction with customers, will see Alitam pharmacies soar into the future.”

‘Alitam was music to my ears’

Prakash is full of excitement for this future, “I’m proud of all I’ve achieved in 40 years,” he smiles. “But I was asking myself: what of the next 20? How do I take the business into new spheres and leave a strong legacy to my children and future generations? Then along came Feisal, and all he said was music to my ears. A standalone pharmacy is limited in its scope. Whereas a large group can invest in the technology, systems and talented staff that the future demands.” Unsurprisingly, Prakash is already playing a full role in the group. “We swap expertise and learn from each other at a fast pace. I’m advising fellow members on improving standard operating procedures whilst integrating the latest available technology for pharmacy automation. In return, among other things, I’m benefitting from the strategic heft of some of the UK and Ireland’s most impressive entrepreneurs and visionaries.”

Champion of care

With 40 years experience in pharmacy, does Prakash have a secret to his success? “It’s something every Alitam pharmacist will tell you,” he says. “It’s all about treating your customers and your staff really well. We know all our patients by name, it’s like they’re walking onto the set of Cheers! And we treasure our loyal staff, some of whom have been with us for over 35 years. Caring is a fundamental quality which underpins every successful pharmacy, and will always set us apart from internet-based competition.”

Says Alitam founder, Feisal Nahaboo, “Prakash has such deep intelligence, vast experience and passion for all that pharmacy can be. He’s been at the vanguard of NextGen pharmacy technology for some time, and is a vibrant example of its worth. As a member of several influential industry bodies, he possesses invaluable insights into the opportunities for our sector. He’s the perfect complement to the Alitam team, and will be instrumental in ensuring we capture all the territory available at this extraordinary time.”

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