The Co-op Group is exploring the option of launching an online prescription dispensing service as part of a new health and wellbeing venture.
The Group has been recruiting pharmacy dispensers for positions based at Lea Green distribution depot in St Helens, Merseyside, who will “prepare prescriptions to be sent out to customers”.
The news builds on an announcement from Group chief executive, Steve Murrells, who told the organisation’s AGM in May that “new business ventures are being looked at”. At the time, he confirmed these would be online ventures, without the capital outlay for high-street, bricks-and-mortar businesses, and would “serve new generations in key areas such as health and wellness, and finance”.
A spokesperson for the Co-op Group said: “At our AGM we spoke about how we’re looking at other markets in order to broaden our range of services. Healthcare is a sector that we have identified as one where we could provide added benefits to our members. We’re looking at roles to help us with development work in this area.”
The move fits with Mr Murrell’s plan for the Group to close “a number of gaps” in the virtuous circle between involved members, active communities, thriving partners, happy customers and proud colleagues.
Co-operative retail stores were selling medicine as early as 1906 and in April 1928 the Co-operative Wholesale Society started to manufacture drugs for societies. The National Co-operative Chemists (NCC), which later traded as the Co-operative Pharmacy, was established in 1945.
However in 2014, following the financial crisis that left the Group with debts of £1.4bn, the organisation sold its 770 pharmacies to Bestway for £620m. With 7,000 employees, at the time the Co-operative Pharmacy was the third-largest pharmacy chain in the UK and the largest one in Wales. In 2013 it reported a turnover of £760m and an operating profit of £33m.
At the time, Richard Pennycook, interim chief executive of the Group, said: “The successful sale of our pharmacy business is an important move for the Co-operative Group. The proceeds will enable the Co-operative to reduce debt and invest in our business and is part of the focused delivery of our clear strategic plans and priorities.”