Supermarkets have long been the place of convenience for the UK shopper. But it is clear they are keen to become so much more.
Through partnering with local GP practices, the humble local supermarket is on track to be successful in positioning itself right at the heart of communities up and down the country.
Dr Mohammed Jiva, 43, is one GP that has fully embraced the involvement of a supermarket in his practice to ensure patient convenience is at the heart of his service.
With a patient list size of more than 9,500, Dr Jiva’s “decent-sized” training practice in Middleton, Greater Manchester faced a problem.
Four years ago repeated patient feedback showed that a lack of parking at the surgery was causing distress among his patients.
As there wasn’t the money nor the land to build a car park for the surgery itself, Dr Jiva knew the solution had to be an innovative and fairly radical one.
“I had to find an organisation with access to a big car park, which we could use for free and could co-locate an offshoot practice,” he says. Not an easy task.
In approaching supermarket giant Sainsbury’s to partner with him on a satellite, Dr Jiva sought to fit general practice around his patients by offering more evening hours, greater parking opportunities and an environment in which people could carry out a multitude of tasks.
Not to mention that each week, Sainsbury’s stores see an average of 22 million shoppers walk through its doors.
Sainsbury’s liked the idea from the off. A spokesperson for the supermarket insists this was because it would enable the store to become a “community resource” and a “focal point” of the local area.
Reluctantly, however, the spokesperson had to admit the organisation too had a lot to gain in signing a deal with Dr Jiva – most noticeably, through raising footfall – the number of people visiting its store.
After a few tweaks on the business case by the primary care trust (PCT), the green light for a satellite surgery to be set up at the Sainsbury’s Heaton Park store was granted in March 2008.
In approaching the supermarket, Dr Jiva had become the first GP to ink such a deal with Sainsburys but he was certainly not the last.
Buoyed by the partnership, Sainsburys’ shipped its London-based HQ pharmacy team out around the UK last year to identify practices “suitable” for collaboration.
Deals have now been signed in five more locations – East Lancashire, Newton Abbott, Sunderland, Bath and Newcastle-under-Lyme.
Dr Jiva’s satellite surgery consists of one GP consultation room next to the Sainsbury’s in-house pharmacy. At any one time there is one GP present and its location means the pharmacy counter assistant can double as the surgery’s ‘meet and greeter’ – removing the need to pay for the coverage of extra practice staff.
This gives the satellite surgery flexibility as it doesn’t have to rely practice staff committing to extra hours to stay open.
“As long as we hold surgery during supermarket hours and have one GP free, it is a goer,” says Dr Jiva.
The ‘hub and support’ model being used by Dr Jiva means only those patients registered with his main practice can make appointments at the Sainsbury’s satellite.
“We have access to everything in the consultation room at Sainsbury’s that I would have access to at the main surgery, which includes: full access to medical records, a booking system, the ability to refer, specimen bottles – everything I need is there so in effect it is just four different walls,”
The culture of the Sainsbury’s satellite practice is very different to that of a traditional one. The biggest constraint is there is no dedicated waiting room, which means GPs must stick to the appointment times or risk a queue forming down the seafood aisle.
Dr Jiva said the lack of a waiting room doesn’t cause too many problems as both he and his GP colleagues at the surgery are experienced enough to know when to rebook someone for a longer session.
Dr Jiva is full of praise for Sainsbury’s for offering a rent-free space with no overheads and no down payment needed. He encourages more GPs to take advantage of the opportunity to deliver better services with alternative providers but has met resistance from many.
Downplaying the perceived threat of engaging with private organisations, Dr Jiva says Sainsbury’s are a long way off a takeover of GP services.
“We are talking about one consultation room next to a pharmacy in a store,” he says.
“Sainsbury’s has got nowhere near the estate needed to run a GP contract off its own back. And what’s more there is absolutely no desire for Sainsbury’s to run any GP primary care services, what it wants to do is support us to run the service independent to them.”
The spokesperson from Sainsbury’s was also emphatic in his denial that the partnership with Dr Jiva was in no way a takeover of GP services, rather a response to customer reviews and feedback.
“These aren’t Sainsbury’s GPs pushing Sainsbury’s products,” said the spokesperson.
“They are very much using the space to serve the community.”
Dr Jiva made the decision to lead on the Sainsbury’s project over the surgery’s practice manager to ensure his main practice wasn’t disturbed by the development of the innovative project.
He, however, admits things may work differently for different practices.
The surgery’s core hours are delivered at the main GP practice in Peterloo Medical Centre. The Sainsbury’s satellite clinic runs evening hours on Wednesday and Thursday from 6:30pm to 7:45pm and a full morning surgery on Fridays.
Dr Jiva hopes to build on the number of GP sessions offered in the Sainsbury’s off shoot - something he thinks will be easier now the practice workforce is becoming “more mobile”. But he is keen to stress he is not looking to increase the number of GP sessions for the sake of it.
“It is not so much a case of spending all our time in Sainsbury’s seeing patients, it is more about seeing what the public’s needs are and delivering on those needs,” he said.
“It is a question of how we can support the public between the NHS and Sainsbury’s to make patients’ lives easier, which is especially important in the current climate.”
The satellite practice at Sainsbury’s has benefited many of Dr Jiva’s patients – young and old. He says he is not surprised by the mix in people attending consultations at the supermarket as it offers something for everybody – disabled parking, good lighting, a warm environment and above all else… dinner.