How a 25 minute call led to the birth of a revolutionary new pharmacy group: Alitam

I remember the day clearly. It was mid November 2019 and I was on the phone to my father’s cousin, Abdool Kureeman, chatting about my recent world record accomplishment with Xeinadin Group. I’d just completed the ‘overnight’ consolidation of 122 independent accountancy firms to form Xeinadin. A world-first which was making waves in both the accountancy sector and in the city. Abdool was talking about his busy life, running a highly successful pharmacy in Surrey. And that was when he said it, “You know Feisal, pharmacists have been consistently undervalued and underused. We’ve proved our capabilities over and over, and yet the healthcare system isn’t recognising that. The landscape is changing now, GPs are under so much pressure. It’s so frustrating that our considerable clinical expertise is largely unused. The potential to save lives and improve health is untapped.”

It was like a light coming on inside my head. Suddenly the two things coalesced: the idea of a mass overnight multiple merger, and pharmacies exploiting their true capabilities. Wasn’t the pharmacy industry ripe for disruption, much as the accountancy world had been? Couldn’t I merge independent pharmacies to offer superior buying power, cost-efficiencies and innovations? Abdool was in agreement and, as we began brainstorming ideas, the realisation grew that we had hit on something truly special.

Fast forward to December 2020, and in just one year I had managed to consolidate over 140 pharmacies across the UK and Ireland, all united under one vision: to be the new ‘Pharmacy of the Future’. This was the concept which best encapsulated everything I wanted to do, mixing my acquisition expertise and business acumen with the plight of my relative, and his vision of the way things should be. I became so passionate about the potential of this new futuristic pharmacy model, stress-testing the idea and running all the usual forensic financial checks. Everything seemed to come back with a massive thumbs up. Pharmacists were absolutely chomping at the bit to realise their full talents and better serve their loyal communities. Customers were fed up with waiting too long to see a GP, knowing the capabilities and tests existed elsewhere. The healthcare system was on its knees, each day bringing more and more pressures from a rapidly aging population.

Wherever I went, through the UK and Ireland, pharmacy owners were enthusiastic and mightily relieved. As I said, within just a year I’d amassed more than 140 pharmacy stores to work collectively, from nothing. The enthusiasm amongst the pharmacists was infectious. The momentum grew and grew. We began to brand the company, develop our ethos and exchange ideas. Each day brought new levels of co-operation between pharmacists, as they helped each other implement the technologies and systems which could free up pharmacists’ time.

By Spring 2020 Alitam was flying as a company, comprising a fantastic mix of specialisms, expertise and mindsets. None of the big pharmacy chains offered this. Alitam boasts entrepreneurial owner-managers who run their own stores, thus having significantly more skills and experience than a manager of the leading big firms. The potential was mind blowing.

And then the pandemic hit and the GPs closed their doors.

At once the unique benefits of Alitam became apparent to the wider world. Our in-store clinical services formed the backbone of the pandemic-hit NHS. Pharmacists worked round the clock to deliver medications, liaise with GPs and help customers who had nowhere else to go for medical advice. We sped up the implementation of new technology to allow pharmacists to do what they do best: help people. Our scale meant we were at the vanguard of the vaccination roll-out programme in the UK and, later on, in Ireland. With many of our stores being larger than average, boasting highly experienced staff, we were the natural choice. To date over 100,000 people have been vaccinated at an Alitam pharmacy, we have been saving lives and bringing huge reassurance and hope.

As communities recover, many still rely on their Alitam pharmacy for vital clinical checks and advice. Our remit is becoming wider and wider, in recognition of the enormous role we played during the Covid-19 crisis. GPs’ eyes have been opened to pharmacists’ astonishing skillset and work ethic. This is a legacy which will last for years to come, changing the healthcare landscape for good.

And all because of a quick 25 minute chat with my dad’s cousin.

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