CCA: At least 720 English pharmacies permanently closed since 2015
A total of 720 pharmacies have closed for good in England since 2015, an analysis by the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) has shown.
A CCA analysis of primary care closures in England, published today (February 22), found that 808 pharmacies closed between 2015 and 2022 with only 138 opening – a net drop of 670.
However, analysis of recent data for 2022/23 “shows that this worrying trend continues”, the CCA said.
Data for 2022/23 so far showed that there has been a further net loss of 50 pharmacies - with “at least” another 55 pharmacies closed and only five opening – meaning the total net loss of pharmacies since 2015 now stands at around 720.
At the same time, a net loss of 343 GP practices between 2015 and 2022 and a further 20 according to the latest 2022/23 data shows that more than 1,000 “access points to primary care have permanently shut their doors to patients”, the CCA said.
The CCA said that its analysis “demonstrates that the trend of permanent closures amongst pharmacies and GP practices is worsening”, with signs of further decline in the first half of 2023 and numbers “expected to rise even higher”.
“Whilst the last financial year saw a decrease in the number of pharmacy and GP practice closures, the closure trend for the first half of 2022/23 points to another rise”, the CCA said.
Deprived areas hit hardest
The CCA analysis also showed that the loss of pharmacies is “disproportionately affecting” the areas with greatest healthcare need, with “over four times as many net closures” in the most deprived areas than the least.
In all, 278 pharmacies closed in the 20% most deprived areas compared with 47 closures in the least deprived areas of the country.
Meanwhile, of the 1,013 permanent primary care closures in England between 2015 and 2022, 37% occurred in the most deprived parts of the country.
With both pharmacy and GP practice closures disproportionately affecting the most deprived areas, this risks the emergence of primary care “cold spots” where patients’ access to healthcare is “significantly reduced or inadequate”, the CCA warned.
The North West, the West Midlands and Yorkshire have faced the highest losses of local pharmacies and GP practices over the past seven years, it said.
Pharmacy and GP closures mean increased travel that in some cases can limit peoples’ ability to seek healthcare, can impact on vulnerable or elderly individuals who need reliable and consistent care and potentially overwhelm other NHS services, the CCA added.
“Sleepwalking into a disaster”
CCA chief executive Malcolm Harrison said the figures should be “a wake-up call” that the sector “desperately needs investment” ahead of the government’s upcoming primary care recovery plan.
Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Pharmacy Taiwo Owatemi said that the CCA’s research “makes clear” that the situation of permanent pharmacy closures is “dire”.
And it is “shocking to think that nearly 40% of pharmacy and GP surgery closures have occurred in the most deprived parts of our country”, she said.
“Without sufficient access to basic healthcare, I worry that these communities will see a downturn in life expectancy, opportunities, and the ability to compete with those from wealthier areas, entrenching these inequalities ever more deeply,” she added.
Ms Owatemi added that only “long-term investment over an extended period of time” in the “critically underfunded” community pharmacy sector will end the “mass departure of pharmacy staff to other sectors across the primary care network”.
“There simply can be no more delays”, she said. “People across the country are already missing out on crucial healthcare support – this underutilised sector must be given the support it needs.”
The CCA report called for greater investment and “modernised funding”, as well as a “holistic” workforce plan for primary care, reduced NHS bureaucracy and a review of activity and where resources are deployed across the sector.
Pharmacies close for "variety of reasons"
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) stressed that pharmacies and GP practices close for a variety of reasons, including mergers or retirement, and that a reduction in numbers does not mean a reduction in the quality of care.
There are twice as many pharmacies on average in areas of higher deprivation, they added.
The spokesperson said: “In 2019, we agreed five-year contracts with general practice and community pharmacy services both of which still have more than a year to run and we are developing plans to grow the GP workforce and improve access even further with a primary care recovery plan which will be announced shortly."
They added that "80% of people live within a 20 minute walk of a pharmacy and 85% from a GP practice with rates even higher in more deprived areas".