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Ash Soni: Independents ‘not aware of just how financially challenged’ they are

The president of the National Association of Primary Care (NAPC) has warned that many independent pharmacy owners aren’t aware of the extent of the financial challenges they face. 

The high number of pharmacy closures this year are “the tip of an iceberg that people are not yet seeing”, NAPC president Ash Soni told C+D in an exclusive interview last month (October 27).

Reflecting on the “major organisations” that were “effectively removing…their estate at scale”, Mr Soni warned that the core contract is not “financially viable” for anyone.

He said that “the problem from an independent perspective” was that individual contractors “don't tend to look at their management information…as well as we should”.

“We’re not aware of just how financially challenged we are,” he warned.

Mr Soni told C+D that he knows “many” of colleagues “who are struggling to pay their wages [and] wholesaler bills”.

And he cautioned that contractors are also “worrying about the fact that they are putting money back into their businesses from their historical savings”.

“That is an indication there is a problem in the market,” he stressed.

He added that “if there isn't a solution relatively soon, then I think we will see a sudden decline in numbers” of community pharmacies.

Last week, Lloydspharmacy’s parent company Hallo Healthcare revealed that the multiple had exited the high street following the “successful sale” of its 1,054 “community and high street pharmacies” to mostly independent buyers.

And in June, Boots revealed that it was closing 300 of its branches located “in close proximity to each other”.


“Uncontrolled closures”


Mr Soni’s comments echo concerns raised by a host of pharmacy leaders this year, who have questioned whether flat core funding in England will be enough to sustain the sector in the future.

During the first session of the health and social care committee’s (HSCC) pharmacy inquiry earlier this month (November 21), National Pharmacy Association (NPA) Jay Badenhorst shared fears about pharmacy further closures to come.

Mr Badenhorst warned MPs that “uncontrolled closures” of community pharmacies were a “great risk” given the “flat” core funding and other challenges facing the sector.

He is also the superintendent pharmacist and managing director of Whitworth Chemists Limited, which operates 34 pharmacies in the North of England and was put up for sale last month (November 10).

He said that “tough” conditions led to the pharmacy group being put on the market and that for many independents “there is no other way out but to sell”.

He warned MPs that the market would face “a lot of instability” in the face of an increasing number of pharmacies up for sale.

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