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NHS Crisis PR Boots

Boots says it 'doesn't recognise' NHS check-up scam claims as it moves to prevent PR crisis

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By Rebecca Stewart, Trends Editor

April 14, 2016 | 4 min read

Boots has told The Drum that it "doesn't recognise" claims which have emerged from a Guardian investigation accusing the brand of forcing staff to exploit an NHS scheme to boost profits.

The pharmacy chain, which is the largest in Britain, has been directing chemists to provide check-ups known as medicine-use reviews (MUR) to customers who didn't need them in order to claim NHS money, according to the paper.

The company's PR machine is now whirring into gear to limit any potential damage that could be inflicted on the brand in wake of the allegations. A statement sent to The Drum from a spokesperson said: "We don’t recognise the claims in today’s press which are not representative of the 60,000 colleagues who work for Boots UK and our commitment to developing healthcare further."

The firm has been accused of pressuring pharmacists into carrying out the unnecessary health checks – which are aimed at patients who have recently been discharged from hospital, those taking high-risk medication, or individuals who have a serious condition – to milk money out of the NHS.

The maximum number of MURs the pharmacy can carry out each year is limited to 400, but sources said that this number is often used as a target for individual stores, rather than a barrier. At £28 per-exam the alleged scheme could be costing the NHS as much as £11,200 per store, helping Boots raise a potential £30m a year across the UK.

Staff have apparently also been instructed to carry out MURs on themselves to up the numbers, with one Midlands-based chemist saying he was directed by his managers to do this and also to give the check-up to a man with dementia.

"The health and wellbeing of all our colleagues is, and always has been, a priority for the business," said Boots in the statement, going on to add: "Offering the best care to patients is at the heart of everything we do and this includes offering pharmacy services that are relevant to the changing needs of patients and healthcare systems. Our pharmacists are empowered to use their professional judgment to assess the appropriateness of a clinical service, and we make it clear to our colleagues that these services should not be undertaken inappropriately."

However, as noted by the Guardian, staff were reportedly also told at a recent awayday by management:“400 MURs is an expectation now. We don’t need to tell you that”.

The investigation also references a leaked 2008 email from another senior regional manager stating: "I personally don’t want colleagues to feel ‘brow-beaten’ but we do need to deliver our targets of 400 MCUs [medicine check-ups – another name for MURs] per store this financial year for two reasons:

1. Delivering 400 MCUs is a measure of Excellent Patient Care

2. The company can make £28 profit for each MCU, so each one we don’t deliver is a lost £28."

The pharmacy's response asserted: "Over the last ten years, our group has continued to significantly re-invest profit right across Boots UK. We are absolutely clear that the drive for strong financial performance has never been to the detriment of our constant priority on pharmacy, and delivering the best healthcare services in the communities we serve.”

A recent as-of-yet unpublished survey from trade union, Pharamacists' Defence Association has also reportedly found that over three quarters of Boots chemists who responded said that "around half" or more of the time financial cutbacks imposed by their employer had "directly impacted upon patient safety".

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