The number of pharmacies in England has fallen by 160 over the past two years, with warnings more are expected to close unless the government provides ‘urgent’ funding to the ‘struggling’ sector.
There are now just 11,026 community chemists – the lowest number since 2015 – according to BBC analysis of NHS Business Services Authority data.
Staff shortages, rising operational costs and reduced financial support are responsible for the decline, which is accompanied by rising patient demand.
The warnings preceded today’s announcement of a major expansion of high street pharmacy services alongside a £645 million investment by the government.
Leyla Hannbeck, CEO of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said workforce challenges have led many pharmacies to close their doors ‘for good’ since 2015, when the industry saw a ‘major’ cut.
Difficult: many pharmacists run at a loss (stock photo)
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today program yesterday: “We expect many more to do the same this year unless the government comes out and gives the pharma some liquidity and cash to keep the industry afloat.”
Ms Hannbeck said there is a funding shortfall of £1.1bn every year, which has resulted in many pharmacies operating at a loss and struggling to pay drug wholesale bills.
“This has caused many pharmacies to seriously struggle with cash flow issues,” she added. ‘Something urgently needs to be done to keep pharmacists afloat.’
Thorrun Govind, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in England, cites increased staff, energy and pharmaceutical costs as some of the problems facing the industry.
She told BBC One’s Breakfast show that pharmacies in England could and would do “so much more”.
“When I work in pharmacies there are often occasions when I know what treatment is needed but I can’t give it because I’m hampered by the system I work in,” Ms Govind told the BBC.
She added that more funding for pharmacies would also improve staff retention – with workers currently at risk of ‘burnout’ – and address health inequalities.
“Pharmacies are really accessible – about a 20 minute walk for most people – and the staff there tend to come from the communities they work from, so health inequalities are also addressed when we have pharmacies open,” she said.
She added that pharmacies can provide regular support to patients with long-term conditions and help those with common ailments – such as coughs, colds, flu and sore throats – to ease the burden on GPs.