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Pharmacy move

Amazon steps up plan for online drugs delivery

Amazon is eyeing the UK online pharmacy sector in which Nadeem Sarwar already operates

Amazon is stepping up its plans to break into the online pharmacy industry in the UK in a move that will concern high street chemists and compete with a Glasgow-based operator.

The US giant has already disrupted the $312 billion (£215 billion) prescription drugs market in America and in January 2020 it filed a trademark for the name “Amazon Pharmacy” in the UK, Canada and Australia.

The UK pharmacy sector is estimated to be valued at $15.52bn and is growing steadily at an annual rate of 2%.

The registration is said to be “under examination” by the UK Intellectual Property Office.

Pharmacy organisations have raised concerns while the move will be of interest to Scottish company Phlo which is building an online drugs delivery business south of the border.

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Nadeem Sarwar set up the digital pharmacy business in November 2019 after seeing how the model worked in the US.

He raised more than £1.7m in a crowdfund exercise last year said the company had “a unique chance to do something amazing in the pharmacy space during 2021.”

The firm has established a firm foothold in London and is planning expansion into Manchester and Birmingham. Its clients are entirely in England as the electronic prescription service that it uses is not available in Scotland.

See also: Interview with Nadeem Sarwar

Amazon acquired US online pharmacy business PillPack in 2018, outbidding its closest rival Wal-Mart. CNBC reported at the turn of the year that Amazon Pharmacy could also move into the medical and dental instruments and surgical markets.

For Amazon to operate its own pharmacy in England, it will need to be included in NHS England’s pharmaceutical list of pharmacies – assuming it wants to provide NHS services.

The UK has a different pharmacy market from the US, where drug makers can set their own prices.

In the UK, drug prices are regulated, so Amazon would not be able to compete with pharmacies on price, but rather on convenience and speed.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has stressed the crucial role played by bricks-and-mortar pharmacies, urging patients not to rely solely on online outlets.

RPS president Sandra Gidley told the chemists’ website C+D earlier this year: “While the public are increasingly buying online, it is vitally important to note that medicines are not normal consumer items. There is real importance and value in the face-to-face interaction between patients and a pharmacist and this must not be lost.

“Each interaction is an opportunity to make a health intervention and to ensure people have no issues with their medicines and are taking them safely.”

Gareth Jones, head of corporate affairs at the National Pharmacy Association, added: Amazon would have to significantly upgrade its delivery network to deliver medicines and handle things like fridge items and controlled drugs.

Duncan Rudkin, chief executive of the general pharmaceutical council, told C+D: “All pharmacies that want to operate in Great Britain, including online pharmacies, have to demonstrate how they will meet our standards before they can join our register.

“Medicines are not ordinary items of commerce, and the guidance sets out what pharmacy owners have to do to protect patient safety”.



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