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Wes Streeting ‘really alarmed’ by Lloydspharmacy closure reports

The shadow health secretary has said he is "really alarmed" by headlines suggesting that major community pharmacy chains such as Lloydspharmacy are considering "pulling" their branches from the market.

Community pharmacy has "a really big role to play" in reducing the burden on general practice, Wes Streeting told delegates at an event hosted by the King's Fund today (April 18).

But the Labour MP for Ilford North said that he was "really alarmed by some of the headlines we've seen about major chains like Lloyds[pharmacy] pulling out rather than expanding".

Read more: Lloydspharmacy to ‘withdraw’ pharmacy services from all Sainsbury’s branches

"We've got to grip that challenge," he added.

His comments follow an exclusive report by C+D on January 19 that Lloydspharmacy would withdraw its pharmacy services from 237 Sainsbury's supermarkets this year.

At the time, the multiple told C+D it was “exploring options for each individual branch”, after being asked whether the branches would close or be sold.

Read more: All Lloydspharmacy branches reportedly ‘at risk’ of closure

Lloydspharmacy has also recently faced speculation in the media that all of it UK branches are “at risk” of closure as part of a strategic review of the business.

A spokesperson for the company previously told C+D that it “does not comment on articles that have been published based on unverified information”.

Lloydspharmacy is not the only major chain looking to consolidate its estate, however.

Read more: Revealed: Tesco to move ahead with plans to close eight in-store pharmacies

On Monday (April 17), C+D revealed that Tesco will move ahead with its plans to close eight of its in-store pharmacies – although the supermarket chain would not name the affected branches.

Similarly, in January, Asda unveiled proposals to close seven of its pharmacies as part of a raft of plans to “drive sustainable growth”.

Pharmacy bodies have warned that without greater funding for the sector – which remained unchanged since 2019, despite rising costs due to rapid inflation – a greater number would be forced to close at a time when their service are increasingly being relied on by patients and the government.

 

Pharmacy "could do a lot more"

 

In his speech at the King's Fund event today, Mr Streeting set out his party's vision for “wider neighbourhood [healthcare] services” to deliver more care to people in community settings, as the nation nears the run-up to the next general election.

Many people around the country "still think the person behind the [pharmacy] counter is trained just to dispense medicine rather than someone who is actually highly qualified and trained to do a whole range of things", he argued.

Read more: Independent prescribing: Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater

But while "we're seeing some progress already in relation to things like [independent] prescribing", the shadow health secretary stressed that "we could do a lot more with community pharmacy".

Since the COVID-19 pandemic has waned in the UK and the NHS has been stretched by a backlog of more than 7 million patients, the current Conservative government has looked to push more health services onto community pharmacy to free up other medical practitioners. While some pharmacists have welcomed the greater inclusion in the healthcare system, others have said the changes would increase pharmacists' workload without improved funding

On January 31, Mr Streeting said that pharmacists are "capable of so much more" than dispensing medicines and selling shampoo. 

Read more: Wes Streeting: Pharmacies 'capable of so much more' than selling shampoo

Responding to Mr Streeting's comments today, Dr Nick Thayer, head of policy for the Company Chemists' Association (CCA), said that he was "pleased" to see the shadow health secretary "recognise the enhanced role that pharmacies should play in primary care reform".

With the vast majority of the public living within a 20-minute walk of a pharmacy, the sector would be “essential to realising [Mr Streeting’s] vision of a ‘neighbourhood health service’”, he said.

Addressing minor ailments in a pharmacy setting will “immediately benefit patients by increasing GP access”, Dr Thayer noted, urging the government to “immediately commission” a “fully funded” national Pharmacy First service in England.

CCA figures released in February indicated that 720 community pharmacies have closed in England since 2015 – suggesting that the sector “desperately needs a funding injection”, he said.

Dr Thayer added: “We cannot let the sector wither and decline, otherwise patient care, especially for those in the most deprived communities, will suffer”.

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