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Rowlands to cut opening hours in England after COVID-19 paused plans

Rowlands has resumed plans to reduce opening hours for around 75% of branches in England, reflecting what the NHS is “prepared to fund”, after pausing the proposal due to COVID-19.

Rowlands first announced that it was looking to reduce opening hours in around 75% of its branches in England as a cost-saving measure earlier this year (March 3), a few weeks before the UK went into COVID-19 lockdown

At the time, the multiple said the measure would, if implemented, entail a “reduction of 10 hours per branch each working week” in the three-quarters of its branches in England that open beyond core contractual hours. The additional hours had become “a cost we can no longer sustain”, Rowlands explained.

However, chief executive Mark Bather told C+D on July 27 that he “immediately took the decision not to [reduce opening hours]” when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“It would have been the wrong time and the wrong message for us [to close our doors] at that point,” Mr Bather told C+D.

Yesterday (October 5), the company announced that it is now resuming plans to reduce opening hours in England and said this is to “reflect what the NHS has asked contractually [for] us to provide and is prepared to fund”.

The proposed changes to opening hours are expected to come into force in February next year, Rowlands said, adding that the move is part of a “fit-for-the-future strategy for sustainable growth” reflecting “funding constraints” in England.

Pharmacy contract “not fit-for-purpose”

In yesterday’s announcement, Mr Bather said the “current pharmacy contract in England is not fit-for-purpose and does not provide the level of funding that the sector requires”.

For this reason, the company is implementing changes to its opening hours, which will also require “changes to current ways of working”, he added

Rowlands is “discussing with each and every colleague what this could mean for them and their branch,” Mr Bather said.

England should follow Scotland and Wales

Mr Bather criticised the English government for not following in the footsteps of the Scottish and Welsh governments, which he said “are keen to expand and support financially the role of community pharmacy as the third pillar of healthcare access alongside GP surgeries and A&E departments”.

In March, Rowlands said the proposal to reduce pharmacy opening hours would not affect its pharmacies in Scotland and Wales, “where funding arrangements are more robust”.

Mr Bather yesterday called on the English government to “consider investing in community pharmacy” given its “ongoing frontline role in fighting COVID-19 and providing access to essential healthcare advice and services beyond dispensing”.

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