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Game-changing technology boosts healthcare

For a new, dynamic player in healthcare, Pharmacy2U has a strong heritage. 

Pharmacy2U started trading 19 years ago and has developed into the market leader in online prescription delivery and a major force for change.

Forging deep understanding of the pharmacy business with automation and data analytics has created a company generating major health and financial dividends.

Its fulfilment centre in Leeds is soon to be joined by a 65,015-square-feet facility in Leicester capable of dispensing 6.5 million items a month. Combined, they expect to reach 7.5 million a month in three to four years to claim 10 per cent of the £8-billion NHS repeat prescription market.

A third facility is being planned to boost that to 15 per cent and a potential £1 billion a year in revenues.

The centres are packed with high-tech distribution lines driven by software that supercharges selection, packing and checking of medicines ranging from aspirin to complex combinations of pills.

Pharmacy2U employs over 230 staff in Leeds. The facility, which has been garlanded with awards for its logistics performance, is served by massive “vending machines” with robot suction arms picking and replenishing lines around the clock.

Our vision is to change pharmacy for the best; to free up specialists’ time, provide the public with medicines safely and efficiently, while costing the NHS less and contributing to a healthier society

A “pick-by-light” line with experienced pharmacists and staff responding to cues to pack medicine boxes still remains the core of the operation that sends out an item every other second.

“There is a high degree of automation, but we also have highly skilled and dedicated staff who are vital to our success,” says Mark Livingstone, Pharmacy2U’s chief executive, who merged the company with Chemist Direct to accelerate its growth in 2016.

“It is incredible to see the robotic element in full swing with the arms running up and down the pick faces at speed. It is mesmerising.

“Technology enables us to do things much faster than a traditional pharmacy without compromising safety. Every item is checked three times and photographed for audit purposes.”

Pharmacy2U was set on its trajectory initially with help from the Business Growth Fund and was then boosted towards stellar performance by G Square, the London-based healthcare private equity investment specialists.

“Both have been instrumental in our growth, and they totally get what we are trying to achieve and the benefits it will bring to patients. They have given us a phenomenal platform,” says Mr Livingstone. “We are also ideally sited in Leeds, which is a hotbed for healthcare innovation and a centre for the NHS.”

Pharmacy2U’s trailblazing success is convincing the industry and the public with its customers growing by 212 per cent over a year and more than nearly 30,000 new patients registering every month. It won the Amazon Growing Business of the Year award last November and has achieved a five-star rating on the review site Trustpilot, making it one of the highest-rated healthcare businesses in the UK.

Established companies are taking notice of the step-change with Rowlands Pharmacies just announcing that it is closing 70 of its 500- plus stores to concentrate investment in automation.

“The banks, high street and consumer commerce have been changing, so pharmacies need to change,” says Mr Livingstone. “A technological future promises amazing benefits for patients with bespoke medication delivered to their door.

“In the US they are working on 3D printing of active ingredients of a pill on to a common soluble so that dosages can be finessed to an individual’s needs and its reaction with other drugs tightly controlled.

“This next-generation technology is at our fingertips and the ability to subtly refine medication is important because so many people find themselves on multiple drugs as they get older. The power to deliver this through automation and technology lies in central distribution, not community pharmacies.

“Our vision is to change pharmacy for the best; to free up specialists’ time, provide the public with medicines safely and efficiently, while costing the NHS less and contributing to a healthier society.

“We have the technology and the drive to achieve this. Pharmacy2U also has the expertise and the passion to continue making a difference.”

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