AstraZeneca has announced that plans for an overhaul of its drug distribution system in the UK via a direct-to-pharmacy arrangement - which have been simmering in the pot since April - will now go live in February next year.

The group says it has picked AAH Pharmaceuticals and Alliance Boots unit UniChem as its sole distributors, paying them a set fee to supply its medicines directly to pharmacists and thereby moving away from the traditional wholesale model.

“We are taking responsibility for ensuring that a modern, simplified supply and delivery service is in place with all our customers,” explained Chris Brinsmead, AstraZeneca UK company president. “In conjunction with the new direct supply and delivery approach, we have introduced a discount and rebate structure, which for the first time establishes straightforward trading terms for our customers”, he added, although specific details were not disclosed.

According to AstraZeneca, the move falls in line with its “strategic intent to partner more closely with pharmacy customers” and, in the same vein, it has also promised “significant investment” to support pharmacy in boosting patient care, by helping to ensure that patients take their medicines properly, for example.

The company says it is exploring several different patient support schemes, such as identifying those needing extra support or education to help improve treatment compliance. It hopes to get 250 pharmacists involved in the initial stage and 1,000 in the first year of these programmes, all of whom will receive a service fee for their participation.

Extra cost to NHS?
News of AstraZeneca’s DTP deal comes just days after the Office of Fair Trading’s market study warned that this next generation of distribution deals could cost the National Health Service as much as £500 million a year.

The report did concede that this new type of model could generate certain operational efficiencies, but advised the government to put in place new measures - via the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme - to ensure that NHS drug costs do spiral as a result.

The company, however, insists that this new type of direct relationship with customers “represents its commitment to a shared agenda with pharmacy customers, the NHS, healthcare professionals, as well as the government in delivering more effective and efficient healthcare to patients”.

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