LONDON, UK – Charac, an NHS-integrated pharmacy app designed to lessen independent community pharmacies’ operational burdens and help them deliver on the Government’s Pharmacy First approach has raised some £1.2 million in debt and equity financing jointly from the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) and pharmacy owners, bringing total funding to date to £2.5 million.
With almost two pharmacies a week closing over the past two years the pharmacy sector is close to a state of crisis. There are now only 11,026 community pharmacies in England, according to data from the NHS Business Services Authority – the lowest number since 2015. Rising operational costs, staff shortages and reduced government financial support have all been blamed.
This comes at a time when pharmacies will soon be under further pressure because of the Government’s planned Pharmacy First approach. Under the new approach, patients suffering various ailments, such as sore throats or shingles, will be sent to local pharmacies first instead of GPs. This includes the announcement that pharmacists will soon be given scope to prescribe medications, including antibiotics, for select conditions that have typically been the preserve of GPs.
“Longer-term this is good news, but right now many pharmacies are focusing more on survival and will struggle to fulfil the new expanded role planned for them by the Government”, says Charac founder Santosh Sahu. “So many of Britain’s pharmacies are just not in the position they need to be to pick up the extra scope. We intend to help significantly improve the health of community pharmacies and enable them to play the larger role that is expected of them.”
Charac is an app specifically designed to relieve time pressure, increase efficiency, and help drive the growth of community pharmacies, as well as boost appreciation of their services. The results of a recent UK-wide survey by Charac revealed that only 13% of people are aware of the full range of services on offer at their local pharmacy. By increasing community pharmacies’ online capabilities, Charac is determined to boost this and increase the take up of services that pharmacies provide, while at the same time making it easier for pharmacies to more effectively supply them.
Charac’s innovative approach to patient engagement and its focus on the digitalisation of the sector as a key initiative to improve its prospects is increasingly being welcomed and adopted by a growing number of pharmacies. Already, over 400 pharmacies have signed onto the app and that is forecast to rise to 2,000 in 2024. The app allows pharmacists to manage repeat prescriptions, access patient records, create bookings and conduct consultations. Currently there are around 25,000 patients using Charac’s platform and that’s projected to rise to 100,000 by the end of its financial year (March 2024).
NPA, the trade association for 80% of independent pharmacies across the UK says the funding injection provides Charac’s with the financing to further enhance its app and the services it can offer. In 2022, the NPA agreed to a long-term partnership with Charac to support and accelerate the digital transition of independent community pharmacies. The further backing from the NPA also follows a £1 million investment from Royal Mail, which allows prescriptions ordered through the Charac app to be delivered directly to patients’ homes.
“Our aim is to help independents become more than a match for the national pharmacy chains in terms of their digital interface with patients”, says Simon Tebbutt, Director of Membership at the NPA. “Together, NPA, pharmacy owners and Charac will ensure that independent pharmacies can meet modern consumer expectations and adapt to the ever-evolving environment”.
The significant investment that Charac has attracted shows the potential of the UK’s healthtech sector. It has led the pack in terms of investment over the past seven years. Investment levels rose from just $420m (£345.48m) in 2016 to $3.8bn in 2021. Although healthtech investment suffered a drop last year, 2022 was still the second highest funded period in the past ten years. A key part of this growth has been the digital health sector, which received $29.1bn in investment globally in 2022.
“Clearly the healthtech sector is full of innovative companies producing some of Europe’s most advanced and transformative solutions to the challenges faced by modern healthcare providers across the globe, says Santosh. “There is an opportunity here being recognised by investors to not only capitalise on the growth of these companies but also to support healthcare systems as they undergo what can only be called a revolution in the way that they interact with patients. Already seven of the UK’s 47 unicorn companies are in the healthtech sector. If the Government helped foster the growth of healthtech as it did with fintech there could be many, many more.”