The COVID-19 pandemic has had serious repercussions for the British high street. This has provided a rare, once in a lifetime opportunity for the online pharmaceutical industry.
• The NHS offers three ways to fulfil a prescription.
• A physical prescription prescribed by a doctor, which can then be fulfilled at a‘brick and mortar’ pharmacy
• A repeat prescription ordered via the NHS telephone service
• An electronic prescription
In the current climate, the NHS and the government are looking to expand and promote this third option. Indeed, most NHS prescriptions are now electronic, allowing patients to fulfil repeat prescriptions without the need to visit local GP surgeries, freeing them up for essential work during the pandemic while minimising the need for physical contact and social interaction, helping to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Under approval from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), NHS England has released guidance for local GP’s to stop providing repeat prescriptions via the telephone (this was to be implemented by 1September 2020). Several charities have expressed concern that the elder generation, who are considered to be “digitally excluded”, will be forced to go back to visiting their GPs regularly in person as a result of this policy – with dangerous implications for the spread of COVID-19 .
Clearly, the online pharmacy industry’s potential for growth is huge here – particularly given the backing of NHS England and the DHSC – but it is still very much in its infancy, with an just 1% of prescriptions in England estimated to have been fulfilled online as of June 2020. With the repeal of telephone prescriptions and the social distancing measures encouraged in the wake of COVID-19, a perfect storm is in place to see a boom in the online pharmacy industry like never before.
As examples, online pharmacies such as Echo and Pharmacy2U have seen an increase in their customer base of up to 200% since January 2020 – and that trend will only increase as the impact of the ongoing pandemic is seen. Indeed, the online pharmacy industry has the opportune to become a key pillar for NHS England and the DHSC.
And this is taking into consideration NHS prescriptions only. According to business health insurer Equipsme, the desire for private healthcare since the start of the pandemic has steadily risen, with 27% of the UK population expressing ‘extreme interest’ in having private healthcare cover. Furthermore, 67% of those surveyed