A man who claims to be the first Pakistani to own a community pharmacy in Leeds has no plans to retire at the age of 72.
Mohammed Saeed-Khan arrived in Britain in 1965 with his parents as a young teenager. He was quickly enrolled in a school in the city but left at the age of sixteen to pick up part-time work. Three years later, he married his first wife, Jamila Saeed-Khan, who soon had their first son.
Mr Saeed-Khan who lives in Harehills, Leeds, now supports two wives, Jamila and Shanaz, and has eight children – four sons and four daughters – and eight young grandchildren.
At the age of 25, Mr Saeed-Khan graduated from the University of Lancaster in 1975 with a degree in chemistry with the idea of going into medicine.
Mr Saeed-Khan earned a pharmacy degree from the University of Bradford in 1982 and opened his own community pharmacy a mere five years later after spending time working in a hospital in Saudi Arabia.
Mr Saeed-Khan said: “I was the first Pakistani pharmacist to open a community pharmacy in Leeds. I ran the pharmacy for around twelve years before selling up and going to live in Pakistan for a year with my family.
“I enjoy my work and I have served the community in Harehills for the past 30-odd years.”
After returning from Pakistan, Mr Saeed-Khan worked as a locum pharmacist (working on a contractual basis) before setting up a new chemist, Khan Pharmacy, in 2012.
Community pharmacies dispense medicine as well as provide support and advice around medicine, for minor acute ailments or ongoing long-term illnesses.
In England, there are approximately 11,5000 community pharmacies but only 40% of these are owned independently, with the rest (60%) owned by large corporate pharmacy chains.
“Existing pharmacies were threatened because they were not keen on seeing an Asian man coming into the area and setting up his own business.”
According to the General Pharmaceutical Council, 29% of all pharmacists in Britain are Asian and are more likely to work as independent chemists than other groups.
The father-of-eight said there were “minor issues” when setting the initial pharmacy up but managed to overcome them and was “immediately welcomed by people in the community”.
With a large South Asian population in Harehills and Gipton – around 37% of people living in the community compared to 7% of the overall population in Leeds – other pharmacies were worried that he would poach their customers.
He said: “Existing pharmacies were threatened because they were not keen on seeing an Asian man coming into the area and setting up his own business.
“There was a particular group that had a monopoly on the area. When they saw me – an Asian man – setting up a service, they were worried because the area has a high population of people from the South Asian community and thought we would erode their business. There were official and unofficial restrictions that we had to overcome.”
Mr Saeed-Khan is multilingual with the ability to speak four languages including Urdu, Punjabi, Arabic and English. Being able help people from different communities was an advantage that he had over other pharmacies in the area which is partly the reason for his success.
The pharmacist said: “The reception when we first opened was great. Back then, there were a lot of communication issues between patients and frontline healthcare workers because of the language barrier. I was welcomed by residents as I could speak their languages. People felt a lot more comfortable discussing their medication with me than anybody else.”
When Covid-19 broke out in the UK, most GP surgeries transitioned to online or telephone consultations to minimise the risk of transmission, but pharmacies had to remain open so that people could access their medication. Mr Saeed-Khan says it was one of the most “challenging” but “rewarding” times of his career.
Speaking over the phone, Mr Saeed-Khan said: “During the pandemic, we were open when GP clinics were restricted. Community pharmacies have supported local people tremendously. We have gone over and above other primary care workers. A lot of doctors had to restrict appointments but as pharmacists, we were there to support people.
“It was quite challenging but rewarding. It was challenging because we were at a higher risk of infection since we were open every day.”
He added: “It is important that people have a community pharmacist that they can trust when dealing with things as important as medication.
“GPs often do not have time to explain in detail about people’s prescriptions. We fulfil an important role in helping the community whether it is answering questions about antibiotics for children or medication for older people.”
Mr Khan was eligible to retire seven years ago but has no plans on stopping work yet. He mentioned: “I wouldn’t know what to do if I retired. Alhamdulillah, I am healthy and able to carry on working full time.
“I enjoy my work very much and it is what keeps me going. I want to continue doing the work that I’m doing and if ever get to a point where I cannot, I will have to rest.
“I came to this country when I was 15, I started working at sixteen and it has kept me going since then.”