Solutions for the UK’s healthcare issues

02 Feb 2021

Solutions for the UK’s healthcare issues

Toby Anderson, CEO of healthcare provider McKesson UK, tells our Global Head of Life Sciences Chris Hamilton about making vital operational fixes and championing employee safety during COVID-19.

As owner of a range of healthcare businesses including LloydsPharmacy, McKesson had to deliver a fast and effective response to the many challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. UK CEO Toby Anderson makes it abundantly clear that his employees did not disappoint.

“I’m very proud of how the teams have completely stepped up to help serve the NHS,” says Toby. “We were extremely busy during the first wave of COVID trying to make sure we could secure medicines. People from our support centres and call centres went out to warehouses to ensure our trucks got to hospitals. We helped set up emergency field hospitals within 48 hours for the government. And particularly in retail pharmacy, we were extremely busy helping people get medication.”

Responding in this way meant taking a lot of early decisions to ensure the safety of patients and employees alike. Protective plastic screens and social distancing within pharmacies were quickly introduced. “We changed some of our opening hours, so our colleagues had time for a rest between serving patients. It was still incredibly difficult, but I think those early decisions helped give our employees and our customers confidence that we were trying to do the right thing.”

Elsewhere in the business, some of the changes of the last 12 months, while hastened by the effects of the pandemic, were really an acceleration of the transformation strategy overseen by Toby since he joined McKesson UK in September 2018 after 12 years in Asia running fast-growing health and beauty retailer A. S. Watson.

Prior to his time in Asia, Toby spent more than a decade at grocery giant Sainsbury’s in roles including Head of Online. His understanding of the importance of digital channels can be seen in McKesson UK’s 2019 acquisition of medicines management app ECHO which has underpinned the growth of the digital online pharmacy side of the business, demand for which has been fed by lockdowns and shifts in consumer preferences. A compelling statistic is that while it took ECHO four years to acquire its first 100,000 patients, the next 100,000 came in just four months. The business continues to innovate, exploring digital technology and how services like ECHO can work alongside community pharmacy. Freeing up pharmacists to help support communities by offering healthcare services in the heart of society, therefore alleviating some of the pressure on GPs.

Overall, McKesson UK is part of a large global organisation, with the US accounting for the lion’s share of revenues. However, the UK operation which employs over 20,000 people comprises a more diverse array of businesses.

“McKesson UK is really interesting because we are essentially a portfolio of businesses,” says Toby. “We are the largest pharmaceutical distributor in the country, supplying hospitals and pharmacies. We operate LloydsPharmacy which is the second largest pharmacy chain in the UK. Then we have our clinical homecare business which provides clinical treatment for people in their homes. And more recently we are Europe’s fastest growing online pharmacy. So, we have a broad spectrum of businesses.

“What is unique through that is the flow of medicines through our business, from the pharmaceutical company, through a wholesaling business, through to retail pharmacy and through to our digital businesses or nurses visiting patients or customers at home.”

In recent years, transformation has been imperative to keep the business strong. When Toby arrived in 2018, McKesson UK was reeling from significant government cuts to community pharmacy funding that changed the economics of the industry. Indeed, he goes so far as to say the business had a “burning platform, so my immediate focus when I walked in the door was to put in some urgent operational fixes.”

This began with an eight-week “voyage of discovery” during which the incoming CEO talked to employees, customers, Government and other stakeholders to gain insight into the main challenges before pulling together a plan for turning the business around. Among the issues this addressed were payroll problems, a high pharmacist vacancy rate and problems with medicines availability.

“I recognised that our teams didn’t always have the tools to do their jobs as best as they would like to,” explains Toby.

“We fixed the payroll and went from more than eight different payroll solutions and 20 different terms and conditions to a harmonised one so we could be fair to all our employees. We put in place a new dispensing system because our old one was 20 years old and a dispensing system is crucial in a retail pharmacy.”

Employee communication was boosted with the introduction of technologies such as Loop, a platform which works on mobile phones. This was significant as many employees do not have access to a computer daily, because they are busy serving customers, driving trucks and so on. Team working and communication has also been improved, and costs saved, by bringing together customer support centres.

One heightened area of focus is the homecare business that provides treatment outside of hospitals and involves clinical staff such as nurses administering what are often expensive medicines. While the logistics can be complicated, homecare makes a big difference to the quality of our patients’ lives and helps alleviate pressures on the NHS and hospitals. As we live through a pandemic this is needed more than ever. The business has grown strongly in the past year and now serves over 100,000 people, and the growth continues.

Given that the Government is McKesson UK’s largest customer, Toby felt the company had to do more to proactively partner with decisionmakers in the corridors of power. This sparked the creation of a public affairs team to help “find solutions to the country’s challenges around evolving healthcare needs and how we can be part of that solution.”

It’s a forward-thinking approach that exemplifies Toby’s attitude to building the business and getting the best from his dedicated employees.

“I want to keep that spirit of agility and flexibility that was to the fore in the early days of the pandemic. I think it’s super important that we continue to innovate.”

And who would doubt that they will?