In Brief

Boots boss quits 'to spend more time with family'

Announcement comes two months after newspaper claims pharmacy giant was 'milking the NHS'

Boots has announced that the boss of its UK operations has stepped down, less than two months after a report in The Guardian alleged the company was "milking the NHS" for £30m each year.

Simon Roberts has left to "pursue new opportunities" after 13 years with the business, the past three as president of Boots in the UK, US parent group Walgreens Boots Alliance, formed in a 2014 merger, said.

Spokesman Yves Romestan told the Guardian that Roberts's departure was a personal decision taken months ago and "translates his desire to embrace a new professional challenge and spend more time with his family".

It also follows an expose back in April, based partly on the findings of a survey conducted by trade union the Pharmacists' Defence Association, saying 75 per cent of Boots's chemists believed financial cutbacks in the company had "directly impacted upon patient safety".

More controversially were claims that medicine-use reviews (MUR), a service paid for by the NHS in which patients discuss their medicines with pharmacists, were being given to colleagues and patients who "didn't need them and can't use them", such as dementia sufferers in order to claim public money.

To prevent abuse of the system, each pharmacy is set a limit of 400 reviews each year. An official Boots communication from 2008 described this as a "target".

The NHS pays £28 for each MUR, meaning the company could make as much as £11,200 per pharmacy, or £30m a year.

UK watchdog the General Pharmaceutical Council is considering whether to launch a formal investigation into Boots, after calling for evidence two days after the claims were published.

According to accounts filed at Companies House, Boots has been growing its UK revenues in the wake of the Walgreens merger, reports the Nottingham Post. For the 17-month period to August 2015, the company generated sales of £9.2bn.

This implies a sizeable uptick from the £6.3bn for the previously-reported period covering the year to March 2014. Operating profit was only marginally up to £576m, after £125m of costs relating to a pension deficit and restructuring projects.

Alex Gourlay, who joined Boots as a Saturday assistant in 1976 and rejoined as a pharmacist after university, has been promoted to co-chief operating officer and will take over responsibility for the company in the UK.

Fellow Boots veteran Elizabeth Fagan becomes managing director and will report to Gourlay.

Boots accused of 'milking the NHS' for up to £30m a year

13 April

High street stalwart Boots has been accused of "milking the NHS" for as much as £30m a year - by its own pharmacists.

An investigation by The Guardian has uncovered admissions from staff that they are pressured into providing free medicine-use reviews, including on colleagues and patients who "didn't need them and can't use them", in order to claim public money. 

Reviews are meant to be offered to specific patients, "including those discharged from hospital, those taking high-risk medicines, people with respiratory disease, and those with heart disease who are prescribed four or more medicines". It is an opportunity for the patient to discuss their medication with a pharmacist, ostensibly to ease the burden on GPs.

As well as anecdotal evidence on the practice, The Guardian also reports an official company communication from 2008 that revealed the 400 limit on reviews each pharmacy can undertake were being classed as "targets".

A separate survey by the Pharmacists' Defence Association trade union, which included the response of 600 - around 10 per cent - Boots in-store pharmacists, found evidence that staff were being forced to treat the NHS reviews "as a profit-making scheme for the company".

The NHS pays £28 for each medicine-use review. If each Boots store carried out 400 reviews, it would make £11,200 and the company would earn as much as £30m a year.

Official figures cited by the Daily Mail show there were 2.4 million reviews, worth £66.5m, across England's pharmacies in 2014/15. 

In one case cited by The Guardian, a pharmacist was directed to undertake a review on a man with dementia, on himself and on another manager, all of which were entered onto the store's record. 

A number of those that responded to the trade union's survey admitted they are "pressurised into conducting MURs whether or not patients are eligible to receive the service" and that "Boots keeps asking me for more MURs".

A spokesperson for Boots said: "We make it clear to our colleagues that these services should not be undertaken inappropriately.”

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