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‘A history of failure’: Weldricks boss blasts pharmacy negotiator

Weldricks operations director David Vanns has said that pharmacy negotiator CPE “negotiated a lot of losses for people this year”, in an exclusive interview with C+D.

Community Pharmacy England (CPE) is “no longer fit for purpose” as an industry negotiator, Weldricks Pharmacy’s operations director David Vanns told C+D in an exclusive interview.

He said that he had “no faith” in the negotiator to address the sector’s “minimum of £1.2 billion” underfunding. 

Vanns was speaking to C+D about Weldricks’ accounts for the 2022/23 financial year, which saw the independent multiple suffer a £1.4 million loss.

Read more: Weldricks posts £1.4m loss amid funding ‘war of attrition’

He told C+D that a negotiator’s performance should be measured by “what they negotiate for you” and that CPE had “negotiated a lot of losses for people this year”. 

And yet CPE’s executive team “don't suffer any consequences for the outcomes of their negotiations”, Vanns said.

He added that in a “commercial business” such an “inept” executive “would not still be fully in place”.

“They've got a history of failure,” he told C+D. 


“Heavily biased towards corporate multiples”


The mass sell-off of the Lloydspharmacy estate now means that the “proportionality” of CPE’s committee does not reflect the new shape of the community pharmacy sector, Vanns said.

He added that CPE is “heavily biased towards corporate multiples” and is in “no big rush” to change its “cozy” relationship.

Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) members, which he said account for 37% of the sector, are “dramatically” underrepresented on the negotiator’s committee, as are independents, who he said account for 29% of the sector.

Read more: ‘Thriving market’: Minister upbeat about community pharmacy despite closures

Large multiples are over-represented on CPE, despite now only accounting for “30% of the industry”, he claimed.

“It's an insult to call it any kind of proportionality,” he said, scoffing at the proposition that the negotiator believes its composition should only change in 2026. 

In November, AIMp called on CPE’s committee to “adopt a model of proportionality that reflects the composition of pharmacy contractors with immediate effect”.

Read more: Cuts, overdrafts and closures: Business becoming ‘impossible’ for contractors

The same month, CPE released a statement in which it “reaffirmed” that it will only re-examine its composition - which it said is 50% multiple and 50% independent - “in line with its election cycle every four years”.

But Vanns said that the interests of large multiples are not the same as independent multiples or individual contractors. 

“There is nothing that Boots [does] that is in any way related to what I do, other than that [it dispenses] some prescriptions,” he said. 

A spokesperson for CPE said that it had “nothing further to add” on the composition of its committee and that its “clear position is that pharmacy funding levels are unsustainable”.


Pharmacy First under review


Meanwhile, Vanns said that it was “hard to say” whether he will keep offering Pharmacy First at Weldricks.

He said that COVID-19 proved that pharmacies are “very good” at delivering tasks “no matter what the cost”.

Read more: ‘Soul destroying’: C+D survey reveals contractors in crisis mode

But he added that he would consider withdrawing the Pharmacy First service from Weldricks if it was “not profitable” after a review of the service this year.

“It’s just a fact of life…I've got to make enough money to make that viable,” he said, adding that he had “some guesses” whether that would be the case by year’s end.


Tough times


Yesterday, pharmacy minister Dame Andrea Leadsom presented a rosy view of community pharmacy to the health and social care committee (HSCC), saying that she felt “the overall package of support and also provision remains very strong”.

But the recently released financial statements of pharmacy businesses paint a different picture.

Read more: ‘It's time we did something different’: AIMp rallies at Westminster

In February, Paydens Pharmacy revealed a £6.4 million loss for 2023, which it said was “directly caused by the flat rate of pharmacy funding”.

In January, Avicenna Retail, which operates 137 community pharmacies across the UK, revealed it would be forced to dispose of “a number of non-core stores” as its gross margin declined.

And data from C+D’s 2023 edition of the Salary Survey revealed that pharmacy contractors were having a torrid time with their finances and their workloads.

Read more: ‘We have to be realistic’: Government could impose new contract, CPE warns

More than a third of respondents said that one or more of their pharmacies were “at risk” of closing in the coming year, while 15% said they had sold or closed one of their pharmacies in the past 12 months.

The survey also revealed that four in ten contractors want out of the profession, with nearly six in ten (59%) saying their stress levels were “very high” and a further quarter (26%) reporting “high” levels of stress .

In March last year, Vanns was appointed as the non-executive chairman of AIMp.

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