Our History

The Healthcare Distribution Association can directly trace its origins all the way back to the London Wholesale Drug and Chemical Protection Society, established in 1867. This group was largely comprised of multiple chemists and subsequently broadened into The Drug Club, in 1891. This forerunner organisation of both the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) and the HDA, governed relations with raw drug suppliers and brokers. Indeed over the following years we can see how both Associations have common and overlapping origins and roots; reflected even today in the HDA’s thriving Associate Membership.

The inter-war years was a period of consolidation and international collaboration to ensure a viable pharmaceutical industry was established and by 1939, Britain could be said to have a pharmaceutical industry.  Senior managers regularly met on specialist committees of the Chamber of Commerce, or in the former Drug Club, which since 1930 had been renamed the Wholesale Drug Trade Association. 

After the Second World War, in the new National Health Service world, and to signify the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry’s growing cohesion, the Wholesale Drug Trade Association was re-named the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) in 1948.

Equally far-reaching developments were taking place in pharmaceutical wholesaling and distribution.  Now that chemists were dispensing a greater volume of prescriptions, they demanded more frequent deliveries of medicines.  A further impetus to reorganisation among distributors was provided by successive official steps to free up competition.  In 1956, the government outlawed restrictive trade practices, and eight years later abolished individual resale price maintenance.

In parallel with these developments, regional trade associations of wholesalers and distributors had formed. These amalgamated in 1966 to become the National Association of Pharmaceutical Distributors (NAPD) and subsequently, from 1991, the British Association of Pharmaceutical Wholesalers or BAPW; which brings us up to 2016.


Pharmaceutical Wholesaling and Distribution today

Pharmaceutical distributors and wholesalers distribute prescribed medicine, medical supplies and other medical products to both primary and secondary care markets. As such, they play an integral role in the UK pharmaceutical and allied healthcare supply chains.

The past five years have been a period of change in the industry, with industry participants contending with an array of competing variables. One of the key developments re-shaping the industry in the United Kingdom has been the move away from the traditional wholesale model. A significant number of upstream brand manufacturers have adopted new distribution models that involve a very limited number of wholesalers and distributors in the distribution of their medicines.

Such moves to rationalise the use of wholesalers and distributors represents one of the most fundamental changes to the industry over the past two decades, with medicines wholesalers and distributors being forced to adapt to the changing marketplace. A number of businesses are now in the process of adopting new business models while others are extending their product portfolios to diversify away from their traditional product base.