World news wrapup: 4 July 2019


Walmart Pharmacy to cut jobs; 200 Boots stores to close down; NZ pharmacies drop script prices to match Chemist Warehouse and Countdown

US: Walmart is set to reduce its pharmacy workforce by up to as many as 40% senior pharmacists, Bloomberg reports.

While Walmart spokeswoman Marilee McInnis did not specify, when asked, exactly how many jobs would go, she said that the company was “aligning our staffing with the demands of the business”.

Reporter Matthew Boyle wrote that “a person familiar with the decision” said that the reduction in pharmacy staff will be less than 3% of all health and wellness employees in the United States.

However, social media sites such as LinkedIn and independent message boards used by employees of Walmart are seeing posts speculating that up to 40% of senior pharmacists could go; and that there could also be a reduction in part-time staff and fewer new staff put on.

Walmart, which has 4,700 locations across the US – most of which contain a pharmacy – is one of the nation’s biggest pharmacy employers.

Pharmacy Times also reports that pharmacists have been devastated by the loss of their jobs.

“Took vacation for a week, come back today and was told that script count was down so hours were cut, therefore leading to my position being eliminated. I also had a staff pharmacist terminated,” one pharmacy manager claimed on Facebook.

 

Palmerston North, New Zealand: A community pharmacy has “broken ranks” following the news that Countdown – the New Zealand equivalent of Woolworths – is now offering free scripts around New Zealand, reports Stuff.

Last week, it was announced that the in-store pharmacy at Palmerston North’s Countdown Rangitīkei supermarket would drop script charges entirely. It had already been the cheapest pharmacy in town, charging NZ$2.50 (AUD$2.39) instead of the usual NZ$5.

Pharmacy Today now reports that Countdown is dropping script fees everywhere in New Zealand, apart from Invercargill.

The Grant Irvine Pharmacy in Palmerston North has been recently taken over by John Tiong, who said that as the store was under new ownership, he worried it would lose business if he did not drop the script fee.

The pharmacy would need to find other ways to make up for the loss, he said.

MidCentral Community Pharmacy Group chairman James Carroll said it was a shame that community pharmacies were feeling pressure to drop the script charge – in order to compete with “an Australian company that could afford to take a loss on some products and services,” wrote reporter Janine Rankin.

Chemist Warehouse entered the New Zealand market in 2017.

Karlyn Eales, Pioneer Vautier Pharmacy manager, told Stuff that she was “blown away” that a community pharmacy would do this.

“It puts pressure on everybody. Pharmacies are not making money already for the services we provide.

“We can hardly keep our heads above water as it is.”

She expressed concern that pharmacies which could not afford to drop the script fee would end up closing down.

 

UK: Chemist + Druggist has reported “everything we know so far” about the 200 Boots pharmacies set to close in the next 18 months.

At the end of June, the Walgreens Boots Alliance reported that it planned to reduce its store count by 8% in the UK through a “store optimisation program” which would close 200 pharmacies which were making a loss.

C+D reported that of these 200 branches, about two-thirds are in walking distance of another Boots.

Boots would not confirm to C+D which branches would shut, and said its implementation of the optimisation program had only just begun.

Co-chief operating officer Alex Gourlay said: “We have pharmacist turnover like any company would have and we simply see [the closures] as a way to manage the cost, while retaining quality people that we need to take care of customers and communities.”

The “overwhelming majority” of employees are likely to be deployed to nearby Boots outlets.

Boots UK managing director Sebastian James said that “There’s no doubt that trading conditions are tough on the high street, and healthcare and retail are facing a challenging reality. Boots is not immune to those pressures.”

While Boots had seen prescription volume growth, it was impacted by NHS underfunding and higher generic prices, said Walgreens Boots Alliance chief financial officer James Kehoe.

 

Toronto, Canada: Toronto’s first self-serve pharmacy in a PenguinPickup – a chain of shops which acts as a one-stop-shop for picking up online purchases – has been introduced in Toronto.

The drug dispensing kiosk is the eighth of its type in the Greater Toronto Area, reports CTV News, but the others are in locations such as health clinics and on college campuses.

The drug dispensing kiosk allows consumers to speak with a pharmacist by video, and then the drug is dispensed through a door in the machine.

“Pharmacies as we know it have operated the same way for the past 50 years,” said Doug Cummings, of Medavail Technologies.

“What we have done is brought kiosk technology along with a mobile app that allows you to pick up your prescription at the machine in as little as 30 seconds.”

The kiosk will allow consumers to access more than 600 prescription and OTC medicines.

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