NPA members have their say on wholesaler service standards

28 Oct 2019

Independent community pharmacies are unhappy with key aspects of the service they receive from wholesalers, but see improvements in some areas, alongside continuing challenges with quotas, communication and surcharges.

These are the main findings from a survey conducted earlier this year by the National Pharmacy Association.

The survey covered fairness, responsiveness and courtesy, timely communication, efficient service and transparency – the same domains used in similar research in 2014.

In some cases, NPA members reported missing stock, an inability to speak with wholesalers easily, credits not refunded in a timely manner or at all, and surcharges not properly explained.

In addition, pharmacies are typically spending six to 10 hours a week on managing stock supply issues, although the NPA recognises that the causes of supply problems are multi-faceted and can sometimes be outside of the wholesaler’s control.

The results showed that 34% of community pharmacies regard wholesalers as having a fair pricing system for surcharging, up from the baseline of the 2014 survey.  In another ‘Fairness’ measure, seven in 10 independents believe that quotas are not allocated equitably.

Overall, ‘Efficient Services’ is the highest rated domain in the survey.  For example, faced with challenging circumstances such as snow and floods, wholesalers are judged to deliver orders promptly in most cases.

Staff working for wholesalers are generally rated as being courteous to pharmacists and pharmacy staff.

Nevertheless, a high proportion of pharmacists say that wholesalers don’t respond adequately to queries and complaints.

In 2014, the NPA created a set of service standards for wholesalers after consultation with independent pharmacy owners. Two surveys held since (2014 and 2019) have asked members to rate their wholesalers against these standards.

NPA Head of Corporate Affairs, Gareth Jones, said:

“There is still a high level of dissatisfaction among independent pharmacies about the standard of service they get from wholesalers. Improvements seem to have been made in some areas, but the picture is mixed and many independents feel they are not always treated fairly. We have discussed the results with the Healthcare Distribution Association, who have responded constructively. Along with other pharmacy bodies, we look forward to working with the HDA to try to tackle the issues that our members have identified. Some relatively small changes from their perspective can make a big difference to our members on the front line.”