Lloydspharmacy managing director Richard Smith believes that high street pharmacists have a growing role supporting the NHS. Jennifer Creevy meets him.

As dinner party anecdotes go, Lloydspharmacy managing director Richard Smith has a cracker. He tells the story of a guy who came into Lloydspharmacy for a consultation about how to use his medicines.

The man in question had visited his doctor because he was allergic to his cat, so the doctor had prescribed him an inhaler. He then complained to the pharmacist that it wasn’t working. When the pharmacist asked how he was using the inhaler, the guy said he had been spraying it on the cat.
A bizarre but true story and typical of a wider problem. “One in five people are not taking their medicines properly,” says Smith. “That’s about 8 million people in the UK who are misreading the instructions.” And, while the cat story may be a great dinner party tale, Smith points out that many pharmacist consultations help prevent serious ailments, highlighting the essential role that pharmacies play.

As part of a White Paper on the NHS, the Government is reviewing the role of pharmacies and Smith explains how operating conditions are proving challenging. “We’ve moved from a regulated to a partially deregulated market,” he says. “While volumes are increasing, the prices we are being paid by the Government are decreasing and our costs are increasing through inflation. We are controlled in what we do, yet face ever-increasing competition from the likes of supermarkets.”

However, Smith is confident that more funding will be provided following the Government’s review, as long as pharmacists can show their worth and play a part in cutting NHS costs. “With medicine-use reviews, for example, we led the market [when they were first introduced] and completed our 500,000th this year,” he explains. “In most of those cases, we found that the medicines prescribed weren’t working effectively because they were being misused. If we hadn’t been there to help, those people would have had to go back to their doctor at further expense to the NHS.”

Smith joined Lloydspharmacy in 2005 following a 30-year career at Somerfield and has been working on making the business more customer service-based, rather than a chain of shops that simply issues prescriptions. “We have had to trade off retail space in order to put in consultation rooms so that we can lead the market on things like medicine reviews, diabetes checks or cholesterol tests,” he explains.

Other trade-offs include taking sun cream that has a sun protection factor of less than 15 off the shelves after a report from Cancer Research said that anything below that was dangerous. “We also won’t sell snacks, like crisps or chocolate, as they’re not good for your health,” he adds. “Commercially, these have all been tough decisions to make.”

Smith believes these decisions set Lloydspharmacy apart from competitors, such as Alliance Boots and the supermarkets. “Boots is a retail proposition with a pharmacy and we are very much the other way around,” he says. “But we’re happy that it’s developing its pharmacies because anything to help the industry encourages further investment from the Government.”

Smith’s vision for the business is epitomised by his branch in Vauxhall, south London. It opened in March last year and has three consultation rooms, plus a robot to make up prescriptions. The robot frees up the pharmacists to work in the consultation rooms. “We are a one-stop shop for minor ailments,” he says.

While having the Government as his biggest customer is a big change from his years at Somerfield, Smith says he has brought to Lloydspharmacy the notion of engaging staff in the customer agenda. “Supermarkets are all about customer service and this wasn’t instilled at Lloydspharmacy. Yet, as we move towards being about community care, customer service is essential in changing perceptions,” he maintains.

“We want people to think of coming to the pharmacist first with a minor ailment instead of always going to the doctor’s. And with great customer service, we can crack that.”

Smith is aware that he has his work cut out, dealing with the Government, doctors, local communities and fending off competition. So much so, in fact, that he quips: “I read the other day that [incoming Woolworths chief executive] Steve Johnson has the toughest job in retail, but pharmacy is much tougher than Woolworths.”

Medicine man

Age: 51
Family: married, with three children
Lives: Wells, Somerset
Interests: tennis

Career history

May 2008-present: managing director of Lloydspharmacy
2005-08: chief operating officer of Lloydspharmacy
1975-2005: various Somerfield roles, including operations director and marketing director