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Supermarket sweep: Are large grocers falling out of love with pharmacy?

With the future of several Tesco and Asda pharmacies hanging in the balance, C+D’s editor Beth Kennedy wonders why big supermarkets are putting their pharmacy services on the shelf

To misquote Oscar Wilde, for one large pharmacy chain to announce consolidation plans may be regarded as a misfortune; but for two more to follow suit within just 12 days looks like carelessness.

In an unprecedented turn of events, that’s exactly what’s just happened. First, Lloydspharmacy dropped the news on January 19 that it will withdraw from 237 Sainsbury’s supermarkets this year.

Then – just a few days later (January 26) – Asda revealed it was considering closing seven in-store pharmacies against the backdrop of a wider shake up.

Read more: Asda proposes closing seven pharmacies

And yesterday (January 31), Tesco announced that eight of its pharmacies were at risk as part of a raft of proposed changes to its business.

It’s true that pharmacy bodies have been warning for months that a lack of funding would inevitably lead to a slew of closures across the UK’s creaking community pharmacy network.

But these announcements signal a major upheaval we can only hope the sector is ready to meet.

It’s important to note that both Asda and Tesco are only proposing closures at this stage, while Lloydspharmacy is weighing up its options for each branch individually.

And even if a number of these pharmacies do end up closing their doors, both Asda and Tesco have pledged to try and find jobs at nearby stores for those affected.

Read more: Tesco reveals proposals to close eight in-store pharmacies

Meanwhile, Day Lewis, Boots and Well flocked to flag up job opportunities in the aftermath of Lloydpharmacy’s announcement.

We all know that years of flat funding and mounting costs have left many community pharmacies struggling to stay open. But it seems odd that three large chains have all announced an overhaul at the same time.

Is it just a sign of the times; part of a wider pattern of closures? Who can forget, after all, that England saw a net loss of 110 community pharmacies in 2021/22, leaving the lowest number in the country since 2015?

Or perhaps it’s just that, as I have seen several pharmacists suggest, supermarkets have come to the conclusion that housing pharmacies in their stores just isn’t financially viable.

With the government refusing to budge on its funding package, they may simply be deciding to cut their losses.

Read more: Lloydspharmacy quits Sainsbury’s: What we do (and don't) know so far

In my last blog, I asked whether Lloydspharmacy’s exit from Sainsbury’s signalled a chance for independent pharmacies to dominate. In the face of further cutbacks at major supermarket chains, that question is more pertinent than ever.

And there are other questions that need answering, too. How could pharmacy closures affect the sector's workforce crisis?

Could primary care networks take the opportunity to snap up more pharmacists and pharmacy technicians? What would that mean for locum rates?

Hopefully the answers to those questions will be answered before another bombshell drops that leaves us all more confused than ever.

 

Beth Kennedy is editor of C+D

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