Fintan Moore reflects on 20 years of trials and tribulations and the importance of not letting your pharmacy ‘own’ you

Running your own pharmacy is a never-ending series of struggles, with occasional all-out battles. By the time you read this, I’ll have been doing it for exactly 20 years, and while I’d like to think I’m older and wiser, I mostly just feel older. If there is one thing I’ve learned along the way, it’s that there is never a time of ‘plain sailing’. You can pay off various loans over the years in the hope that when the final repayment has been made, there will be a bit more money to reinvest in the business or to take home. However, every time I could see light at the end of the tunnel, the HSE had an uncanny knack of making cuts that built more tunnel, especially in 2009 and beyond. Nevertheless, I’ve been lucky enough to survive in business this long, and should hopefully be here a bit longer.

The reason that I consider myself lucky is that I always believed that I had a pharmacy worth fighting for. I needed that belief at times. Twenty years ago, my shopping centre was a hub of antisocial activity, with nightly joyriding. I was threatened more than once with being burned-out for co-operating with gardaí. I was fortunate not to go up in smoke one night when a car got smashed into a neighbouring unit and torched. With a bit of effort, and as the area matured, things improved hugely. A couple of years went by, and I had a planning battle against a local hotel group looking to build their own pharmacy, which would have made a mockery of planning zones — these guys were well connected in political circles but nevertheless, the planning system worked and An Bord Pleanala threw them out.

Money isn’t everything of course, but to justify the day-to-day hassle of owning a pharmacy, I think the gross profit has to be enough to let you have a decent quality of life…

They were some of the bigger issues that might have made me question just why I was in business. There were the smaller skirmishes as well — facing off against hammers with my pickaxe handle did make me question some life choices. Throw in occasional flooding, staffing issues, shopping centre problems, compo claim scumbags, fraud, shoplifting and of course the million-and-one daily headaches of actually running a pharmacy in the teeth of HSE bureaucracy, but I still do it, and think I’m lucky that it’s worth doing. 

Money isn’t everything of course, but to justify the day-to-day hassle of owning a pharmacy, I think the gross profit has to be enough to let you have a decent quality of life. By that, I’m not talking about driving a new Range Rover or living in a mansion. My definition of a business being worthwhile is when you can get away from it to spend time with your kids, get some exercise, have a hobby, meet up with friends, and take a family holiday. In my opinion, if the business doesn’t let you do that, with no prospect of that improving in the future, then it’s time to think about walking away. Don’t let your pharmacy end up owning you.

Hubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble

By now, we’ve all received our instructions for the HSE’s contingency plan for the High-Tech Hub. Some of you might even have read them. The important thing to know is that the plan is complicated, and probably unworkable. If we’re lucky, the emergency triggering the plan will be over before we need to actually figure out how the plan is supposed to work. The plan does have one glaring omission, which is that it seems to be based on the premise that there will be HSE staff ready, willing and available to operate their part of the plan. However, what do we do if the problem with the Hub is that the HSE staff are on strike, or a work-to-rule? 

This may seem unlikely, but we are probably approaching an economic slowdown, with unknown Brexit outcomes. If things go pear-shaped in a big way and money gets tight, the public sector could yet end up battling against a future government. So if a strike in the Hub puts a spoke in its wheel, what’s the contingency plan to bypass it?

Fat Chance?

I saw a recent mention of a drug that was a blast from the past, namely Xenical. It was touted as the great hope for obesity about a decade ago, but I wonder if the logic behind its use still has a solid base. Xenical works by reducing the amount of dietary fat absorbed by the gut, so the theory was that a lower fat intake would help weight loss. It was popular for a short while, but it wasn’t the blockbuster that it was predicted to be. One drawback was that the patients had to modify their diet to contain less fat because the drug could otherwise cause fatty diarrhoea, but for these patients their inability to modify their diet was usually the cause of the problem initially. 

  The drug fell out of favour back then, but what is probably more relevant nowadays is that most scientific studies on obesity in recent times conclude that excess sugar and carbohydrate consumption is more of a problem than fat consumption. So Xenical may have been barking up the wrong tree in the first place. λ