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North west of England hit by worst pharmacy closure rate in 2021/22

The north west of England faced the largest pharmacy regional closure rate compared with the rest of England in 2021/22, NHS data has revealed.

A total of 87 community pharmacies closed in the 2021/2022 financial year in the north west of England, according to experimental data released by the NHS Business Services Authority (NHS BSA).

Meanwhile, just 56 opened in the same period, resulting in a net loss of 31, compared to a net loss of 39 during the previous financial year.

The General Pharmaceutical Services in England 2015/16 – 2021/22 report explored the activities carried out by community pharmacies and appliance contractors in England, along with their associated costs, over a seven year period – from 2015/16 to 2021/22.

According to the NHS BSA figures, the north west saw a year-on-year increase in the number of independent contractors, up to 627 from a total of 623 in 2020/21.

Meanwhile, the number of “multiple contractors” – which NHS BSA defines as “consisting of six pharmacies or more” – fell from 1,128 to 1,108 in 2021/2022.

Read more: Pharmacy closures: Lowest number of pharmacies in England since 2015

The data also shows that the number of community pharmacies across the whole of England has dropped to its lowest figure since 2015, with 11,522 currently open.

This marks a 3.6% decrease on 2015/16 levels, when there were 11,949 community pharmacies.


Worst-hit regions


The north west overtook the midlands as the worst-affected region for net pharmacy closures, with the midlands falling to second place in 2021/2022, the report found.

A total of 44 community pharmacies in the midlands opened while 67 closed, resulting in a net loss of 23 pharmacies in 2021/2022 – a drop on the net loss of 47 reported the year before.

It was followed by the north east and Yorkshire, which recorded a net loss of 18 pharmacies in 2021/2022, with 55 pharmacies opening and 73 closing.

This also marked a reduction on the net loss of 33 pharmacies the north east and Yorkshire saw in 2020/2021.


Government must “urgently inject some extra funding”


Nottinghamshire local pharmaceutical committee (LPC) chair Rob Severn told C+D that the current workforce pressures, “combined with inflationary pressures, is rapidly squeezing the financial position for many contractors”.

Read more: Pharmacies should ‘challenge’ local MPs to stop closures, AIMp says

This “is a worry”, he admitted. “I know that the contractors we represent are doing everything they can to ensure their patients are being looked after as best they can be,” he added.

It is vital that teams “try to ensure all income streams can be maintained”, he said. “I would call on the DH and the government to urgently inject some extra funding into the sector.”


Frontline pharmacy teams “under unsustainable pressure”


Meanwhile, Nick Hunter, chief officer at Doncaster, Rotherham and Nottinghamshire LPCs, admitted that “it’s not so much closures outpacing openings that concerns me but the ongoing hardship contractors are facing by struggling on”.

Community pharmacy closures, “at least at the moment” are “a relatively small symptom of a bigger underfunding issue”, he added.

Underfunding “in other parts of the NHS has knock-on consequences for community pharmacy”, he said.

As chief officer, his main concerns “are around the unsustainable pressure frontline pharmacy teams are under” – which include supply issues, problems in other parts of the NHS increasing workload, workforce challenges, patient demand, lack of integrated NHSE IT, and fragmentation of commissioning.

Read more: Pharmacy bodies blast ‘devastating’ English funding deal

The NHS BSA data was released after a report commissioned by the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) last month warned that up to 3,000 pharmacies are at risk of closure by 2024, following years of flat NHS funding and mounting inflation.

Meanwhile, commenting on the NHS BSA data, NPA chair Andrew Lane told C+D that the closure figures “are just the tremors of the earthquake to come if nothing is done to reverse chronic underfunding”.

He added: “Action is needed now to maintain current services and safeguard the community pharmacy network for future generations.”


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