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The hardest sell of all

‘Ladies and gentleman of the press, thank you for coming today to the re-launch of what was known as British Home Stores, BHS. We are keeping the acronym, but from now on we’re branding the stores across the country, British Health Stores.’ He stopped, expecting applause.

There was none.

Slightly flustered, he continued: ‘BHS is not entering the health economy, but we have embraced the word ‘health’ into our name as we wish to adopt the business model of the National Health Service, and that of general practice in particular. If what you guys write and the general public read is true then we’re all going to make a lot of money, aren’t we?’

He looked up from his scripted notes. He couldn’t tell if the journalists were taking notes on their phones or simply texting their other halves.

He cleared his throat. ‘What we plan to do is offer 10,000 or so members of the public registration with a British Health Store…’

‘How much will that cost?’ shouted a voice from the back.

‘Oh, it will cost nothing. Well nothing directly from the customer. I forgot to mention, British Health Stores has been nationalised. Something to do with keeping the branding quality of anything with the term ‘British’ in it, I believe. So the stores will be funded by the taxpayer.

‘And your customers won’t pay a thing?’

‘That is correct. As I was saying…’

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‘How much is it going to cost the tax-payer?’ shouted a journalist at the front.

‘As I was saying, each store will be paid a capitation fee based on the number of customers it has registered. The initial figure will be about £72 per customer. From that sum each store will pay its staff, its rates, buy stock…’

‘Which it won’t sell?’ asked one of the newspaper journalists.

‘No, it won’t sell its stock to its customers. Those that are registered will be able to come to the store and take what they need.’ He noticed people were beginning to pay attention.

‘What they need or what they want?’ shouted the initial gruff voice from the back.

‘Our business model is based on what our customers need,’ replied the suited man.

‘But what stops them from coming back again and again and again and taking whatever they want?’ asked a well-dressed TV reporter sitting to his left.

The volume of comments and remarks in the whole room rose as the journalists sensed a story.

The man on the podium realised he needed to take control, ‘Look! I know this is a departure from normal business sense, but this model has worked for British general practice for years. What could possibly go wrong?’

Dr Samir Dawlatly is a former secretary of the RCGP’s adolescent health group and a GP in Birmingham