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‘Closing my pharmacy after COVID-19 struck is devastating’

The COVID-19 outbreak worsened existing funding problems for community pharmacy, forcing the closure of a branch of my independent pharmacy group, says Stuart Gale

For years now, the pharmacy sector has warned of the unrealistic pressures on community pharmacy, from relentless government cuts to the impact of Brexit on the price and availability of certain medicines.

Frosts Pharmacy adapted to survive. We brought the local GP surgery into Marston Pharmacy, Oxford and in our other branches we opened travel clinics – which have proved incredibly successful. Then COVID-19 struck.

Patient demand for certain products went through the roof and wholesalers reacted accordingly by bumping up their prices. Rather than pass all these price hikes on to customers, we absorbed many of them, which had a negative impact on our bottom line.

This was compounded by staff having to work longer hours, with twice as many deliveries, which had further financial implications for the business We had two branches within 500m of one another and no matter how we did the sums, keeping both of them afloat was simply no longer viable.

Frosts Pharmacy group will do all it can to support the local community and our colleagues affected by the closure of our Northway Pharmacy, Oxford branch in August. Our Marston Pharmacy is able to accommodate all of our Northway Pharmacy patients.

All affected patients have been informed of the situation and advised of their options so that their care is not impacted. If they are unable to walk to Marston Pharmacy, we offer a delivery service.

It is essential that the government takes notice of what is happening to independent pharmacies such as mine. We will not be the last casualty of this crisis. As more pharmacies close, we face the very real prospect of communities around the country being left without a local pharmacy. The knock-on effect this will have on the already overburdened NHS cannot be underestimated.

My mother was a pharmacist, as was her father, so I have been involved with the industry in one way or another all my life. While we know online pharmacy has a role to play, bricks-and-mortar pharmacies are at the heart of the community, for our older customers especially.

This is why I have been campaigning on behalf of community pharmacy for many years now, warning of the long-term implications of government funding cuts. It has been devastating to see our worst fears play out.

Stuart Gale owns the two-branch Frost Pharmacy group in Oxford and Oxford Online Pharmacy



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