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Patient group: Over-60s ‘overwhelmingly’ prefer indies to supermarket pharmacies

As supermarkets mull over closing pharmacy branches around the country, a patient group for over-60s has told C+D that independents will always be their chosen port of call.

Non-profit campaigning organisation Silver Voices, which represents more than 5,000 over-60s in the UK, said that its members consider independent pharmacies their first choice not just for trust, but for products in stock.

“Our members would overwhelmingly prefer a proper independent pharmacist’s shop rather than something tucked away in the corner of a big supermarket,” Silver Voices director Dennis Reed told C+D.

Read more: Lloydspharmacy confirms closure of Dorset Sainsbury’s branch next month

He has found that supermarket pharmacies “tend not to be so well stocked, so you go for something and they haven’t got it”, he said.

And he added that many supermarket pharmacies don’t provide “continuity of staff”.

“You get agency staff in and so on – I’m not saying they’re not skilled enough but we obviously like to see people on a regular basis and trust them when you’re talking about medicine,” he said.


Permanent closure plans concerning


Mr Reed suggested that temporary closures have also been a source of frustration with some supermarket pharmacies.

“I’ve noticed quite often if they’re short staffed, they’ll just slap a closed notice on them,” he told C+D. 

A C+D investigation found that thousands of community pharmacies reported temporarily closing their doors between October 2021 and September 2022, with many citing difficulty securing locum cover and short-notice staff sickness as reasons.

Mr Reed told C+D that Silver Voices is still “concerned” about recently revealed closure proposals at several supermarket pharmacy chains “for a number of reasons”.

He cited difficulties accessing face-to-face appointments with GPs meaning that the government is “transferring a number of primary care services to pharmacists”.

Read more: NHSE economic review chance to ‘prove’ unsustainability of pharmacies

Silver Voices “would be very concerned” at a number of pharmacies closing their doors as this would cause a “double whammy” of patients being referred from their GP to a pharmacy that has “closed down”, he said.

“Particularly if more community medical services are being transferred to pharmacists, then it is essential that there is a good coverage,” Mr Reed told C+D.

Read more: 'Unprecedented closures': Pharmacy leaders press Sunak for cash injection

This is a particular concern for Silver Voices members as older people are “often fairly isolated and not able to travel great distances” so “unless you’ve got a car you’re stuck”, he said.

“We’re not greatly enamoured with pharmacies in supermarkets anyway but at least for basic necessities it’s better that they’re there than they’re not there,” he added.


Domino effect?


But Mr Reed also raised concerns about what supermarket pharmacy closures indicate about the state of the sector as a whole.

“It is concerning – if big supermarket pharmacies are closing, what does it mean for independent pharmacies?

“There are not as many independents as there used to be,” he said.

Read more: ‘Recovery infeasible’: NHSE lost £16m in COVID loans due to pharmacy closures

It comes as three supermarket pharmacy chains have announced consolidation plans in the last month.

Lloydspharmacy came first, saying it would withdraw from all 237 of its Sainsbury’s in-store branches “over the course of 2023”. Asda and Tesco followed, revealing proposals to close seven and eight pharmacies respectively.

Meanwhile, England saw a net loss of 110 community pharmacies in 2021/2022, resulting in the lowest number of community pharmacies in seven years.

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