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Pharmacy closures: Net loss of 215 leads to lowest number of pharmacies in England since 2015

England saw a net loss of 215 pharmacies in 2020/21, resulting in the lowest number of community pharmacies in six years, NHS data has revealed. 

A total of 451 community pharmacies closed in 2020/21, while 236 opened during the same period, resulting in a net loss of 215, according to figures published today (October 28) by the NHS Business Services Authority (NHS BSA).

The General Pharmaceutical Services in England 2015/16 – 2020/21 report investigated the activities carried out by community pharmacies and appliance contractors in England over a six year period – from 2015/16 to 2020/21.

It found that the number of community pharmacies in England has dropped to its lowest figure since 2015, with 11,636 currently open. This is a 2.6% decrease on 2015/16 levels, when there were 11,949 community pharmacies and more pharmacies opened (252) than closed (248).

The number of pharmacies closing has generally outpaced the numbers of pharmacies opening for the past five years, according to the NHS BSA data.

“This is the lowest number of active contractors since 2015/16,” the report said.


Decrease in DSPs


The report also found that the number of distance-selling pharmacies (DSPs) in England has decreased by 4.6% in a year, going from 390 in 2019/20 to 372 in 2020/21. These 372 DSPs are, however, still an increase of more than 190% (192.9%) on 2015/16 levels, when there were just 127 of them.

There were also 6,939 multiple contractors in 2020/21. This was down 2.6% on the 7,122 open in 2015/16.

Meanwhile, the number of independent contractors has fallen by 2.7% from 4,827 in 2015/16 to 4,697 in 2020/21.

A spokesperson for the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) told C+D: “Pharmacy closures means less capacity at a time when healthcare needs are growing, and community-based provision needs to step up a gear.

“Without a fresh injection of funds, as the analysis we commissioned from Ernst & Young last year showed very clearly, this pattern will continue in England and community pharmacy will be unable to play its full role helping the NHS recover from the pandemic.”

Earlier this year, the now former Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) chief executive Simon Dukes told C+D that further pharmacy closures will be “inevitable” if funding for the sector is not addressed by the end of the five-year contract.

If the government does not increase the sector’s funding by 2024, “perhaps a number of pharmacies will decide they've had enough”, and “close their doors for good”, he warned.


Over 1bn prescription items dispensed


The report also found that 1.03 billion prescription items were dispensed by community pharmacies and appliance contractors in England in 2020/21. This is a 1.8% decrease from the number of items dispensed in 2019/20, but still a 2.4% increase in items dispensed since 2015/16.

Additionally, there were 9,284 pharmacies providing the NHS Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS) in 2020/21. This is an increase of over a quarter (26.1%) on the 7,361 pharmacies registered to provide the service in 2019/20, when the service launched.

Earlier this month, NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) published a blueprint for improving access to GP appointments.

This revealed that only 800 GP practices had already signed up to refer patients to pharmacies via the CPCS.


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