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Lloydspharmacy quits the high street: It’s the end of the world as we know it

As what was once one of the largest community pharmacy chains in the UK announces it has exited the market, Beth Kennedy reflects on a turbulent year for Lloydspharmacy

It’s the story that has defined 2023; the “review” of Lloydspharmacy’s estate that saw it withdraw from Sainsbury’s supermarkets earlier this year and sell off vast swathes of its branches with increasing frequency until it finally announced last week that it had exited the high street.

Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing? Looking back, it’s obvious that this moment was inevitable. C+D has published at least 10 stories about Lloydspharmacy branch sales this year alone, ranging in scale from independent operators picking up a branch or two to Rowlands buying 30 of the former multiple’s pharmacies in Scotland.

It soon became obvious that there was a pattern here, leading to unavoidable speculation in the C+D newsroom and beyond that Lloydspharmacy could be winding up its community pharmacy operations.  

Read more: Lloydspharmacy confirms 'successful sale' of all community pharmacies

But when repeatedly questioned by C+D about the increasingly frequent sales, the multiple would without fail say that it was “selectively selling” some of its branches. Well, call me cynical, but I’m not sure there’s anything selective about selling off your pharmacies when it’s all of them.

To be fair, Lloydspharmacy has made much of the fact that all 1,054 of its pharmacies have gone to good homes – with many of these acquisitions having been reported by C+D over the past few months. And its parent company Hallo Healthcare hasn’t left the picture entirely.

It still owns four healthcare-related entities including its wholesaling arm AAH and Lloydspharmacy Healthcare Services, which is now being headed up by the multiple’s former superintendent Victoria Steele and provides pharmacy services to NHS trusts and the private sector. But there’s no getting away from the fact that the high street will be a very different place without the once-mighty mutliple.

Read more: ‘Historically significant’: All the reaction to Lloydspharmacy’s high street exit

At this point in my editor’s comment, I’d usually offer some insight into what this all means for the future. But the truth is that I’m not sure.

It may be that, as some pharmacy leaders have suggested, Lloydspharmacy’s demise flags troubled waters for the rest of the industry. After all, they say, if such a behemoth can exit the market, where does that leave smaller operators?

And maybe they’re right. With the 34-strong family-run chain Whitworth Chemists putting its entire chain up for sale this month, there are early warning signs that more businesses will be forced to make difficult decisions in the face of flat core funding and brutal inflation.

Read more: Ex-Lloydspharmacy superintendent Victoria Steele lands new role in group

But I’m unconvinced. Perhaps my optimism is misplaced, but I’m cheered by the fact that many of the former Lloydspharmacy branches have been snapped up by independents. I’ve written before about the changing shape of the sector and how it may be independent pharmacy’s time to shine. That’s never felt more true than now.

Community pharmacy may have lost one of its giants, but it has much to gain. With Pharmacy First due to kick off early next year, teams have the chance to show how much of a difference they can make (ignore the slightly sniffy comments we’ve seen from certain GPs – I certainly am). And the introduction of yet another new pharmacy minister could open up a whole host of opportunities for the sector.

So, yes, Lloydspharmacy is no more, marking the close of an era in community pharmacy. But the sector still has so much to offer. It may be the end of the world as we know it, but I really do feel fine.

Beth Kennedy is the editor of C+D

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