Chiman Patel left Uganda with his siblings in 1967 to escape persecution from its former military dictator Idi Amin. He came to UK knowing one day he would have his own pharmacy.
“I’ve wanted to own a pharmacy from a young age, even when I was in Uganda,” he says.
But “times were hard” says Chiman who was the eldest boy in the family and only 12 years old when he left Uganda. He vividly recalls the day he arrived in the UK.
“I remember arriving at Gatwick Airport and seeing lots of chimneys everywhere as we drove up to Bolton. My parents were already here so they came to pick us up. It was cold, damp and foggy.”
His family were one of thousands who left Uganda to escape on going violence against ethnic minorities. In 1972 Idi Amin then expelled Uganda’s Asian population, which left thousands of families devastated, with approximately 80,000 Ugandan Asians impacted by the decree.
Chiman and his siblings eventually adapted to life in the UK and did their formal education here. After qualifying as a pharmacist and doing his pre reg in Boots, he worked for an independent pharmacy before deciding to purchase his first pharmacy in Blackburn alongside his younger brothers Utamkumar and Suresh Patel in 1979.
Chiman says the whole family chipped in to support the pharmacy.
“We started the business with great help and funds from family. I’m the founder of the company but both my brothers are heavily involved in the business with great support from our parents, sisters, wives, children and brother-in-laws.”
They grew the pharmacy business to form what is now known as Sykes Chemist, which has its headquarters in Bolton.
The group was operating 20 Branches in the Northwest of England, but due to funding cuts in the last 18 months, they had to consolidate some of the branches by mergers and management buyouts, says Chiman.
“We have 16 branches currently and have around 160 staff right across the group. We still have a strong commitment to deliver and be engaged in the provision of locally commissioned services.
“All our managers and staff are always ready to respond to the needs of the patients and during the last year, most have work late into the night to manage the work flow so that patients receive their medicines. Without the dedication of my staff we couldn’t have managed this last year.”
Although there have been many advancements in the pharmacy sector over the years, Sykes Chemist has always managed to adapt, explains Chiman.
“Considering that I had my first Genie computer in 1979 as a labelling computer – we can say that with regards to IT developments, we have been learning and adjusting to the constant demanding changes in pharmacies. In my 42 years being a pharmacist, we have adapted well and are always ready to learn and change.”
During those years as a pharmacist and NPA member, Chiman has always used the association’s services.
“I’ve been an NPA member from the very first day I started my first pharmacy in Blackburn.
“As a member I know I have all the resources I need just with a phone call away. With the support of the NPA I also know that my back room office paperwork will be up to date too.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has taken its toll on staff and proved to be a challenge for the sector but Chiman credits the NPA for keeping pharmacy in the spotlight.
“Covid-19 has been very challenging for pharmacists and pharmacy staff. But I’m very grateful for the NPA who continue to raise the issues about funding with government and PSNC.
“Through the media they convey that pharmacies are important and I just know that the NPA is always supporting our cause.”
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