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63% closure rise sees lowest number of English pharmacies since 2015

There has been a 63% rise in community pharmacies closures in England over the past five years, leading to the lowest number of pharmacies since 2015/16, NHS data has revealed.

There were more than 400 community pharmacy closures England in 2019/20, a 63% increase compared to 2015/16, according to figures released by the NHS Business Services Authority (NHS BSA) today.

The General Pharmaceutical Services in England 2015/16 - 2019/20 report looked at the activities carried out by community pharmacies and appliance contractors in England over a five year period – from 2015/16 to 2019/20.

It found that 405 community pharmacies closed in 2019/20, compared to 248 in 2015/16. There were also 239 pharmacies that opened in 2019/20, down 5% on the 252 openings seen five years ago.

The total number of community pharmacies in England in 2019/20 was 11,826, down 1% on 2015/16, when there were 11,949.

The figures revealed that the number of independent contractors decreased 2.3% – from 4,827 in 2015/16, to 4,716 in 2019/20.

The number of multiple contractors was almost the same as five years ago, down only 0.2% from 7,122 in 2015/16 to 7,110 in 2019/20.

However, the number of distance selling pharmacies increased by 207%, from 127 in 2015/16 to 390 in 2019/20.

The report said: “The number of active community pharmacies in 2019/20 is the lowest it has been in the previous five years. This follows two consecutive years of decreases, with the number of community pharmacies decreasing by 1.22% between 2017/18 and 2019/20.”

Risk of “irreversible decline”

Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) CEO Leyla Hannbeck told C+D today (November 19) that AIMp is “surprised there have not been more closures despite the very difficult financial position that the current funding model has forced pharmacies into”.

“Our members are clearly going above and beyond in delivering services and healthcare while dealing with increasing dispensing volumes and associated issues, such as shortages,” she said. This “cannot go on indefinitely without pharmacy closures disrupting the national pharmacy network”, Ms Hannbeck added.

National Pharmacy Association chair Andrew Lane told C+D today that: “In recent years, pharmacies have done more and more, but for less return. Too many pharmacies have been running on empty and closures are inevitable in these circumstances. The pressures of COVID-19 appear to be exacerbating the already crushing financial circumstances.

“Without a change to the current underfunding, we will witness the irreversible decline of the community pharmacy network in England. That’s why the NPA is pushing hard for change.”

Increase in prescriptions dispensed

Despite a decrease in pharmacies, the report found that the number of prescriptions dispensed by community pharmacies and appliance contractors has increased by 4.3% in the past five years. In 2019/20 there were 1,046 million prescription items dispensed, compared with 1,003m items in 2015/16.

The cost of drugs and appliances reimbursed to community pharmacies and appliance contractors was on a similar level to five years ago, down just 0.2% from £8,664 million in 2015/16, to £8,649 million in 2019/20.

The NHS BSA report comes two months after a report commissioned by the National Pharmacy Association, published on September 4, forecast that 72% of community pharmacies in England will be in deficit by 2024.

Last month (October 23), Boots announced that it was to resume its previously announced 200 branch closures after temporarily pausing them due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with 138 completed so far.

In August, Lloydspharmacy announced that it was closing a “small number” of pharmacies in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. Last year, Lloydspharmacy CEO Toby Anderson told C+D that closures were expected due to the government’s commitment to five years of flat funding.

What do you make of these figures?

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