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Pharmacy closures in rural areas hit four-year peak, DH reveals

Last year saw 13 pharmacies close in England’s rural areas, while new data analysis reveals a “record” high of closures across the country.   

Some 48 pharmacies in rural areas in England closed between 2019 and 2023, new data presented in parliament this week (April 30) has shown.

With 23 pharmacies opening, this represents a net loss of 25 pharmacies across five years, it revealed.

The numbers were announced by parliamentary under-secretary for health and social care Lord Nick Markham at The Bishop of St Albans’ request. 

He revealed that 13 pharmacies closed in 2023 – the largest amount since 2019.

The data also showed that eight pharmacies opened in rural areas in the same year, leading to a net loss of five premises.

Meanwhile, eight pharmacies closed and just three opened in 2022.

And in 2019, rural areas were down by a total of 10 pharmacies after 13 closed and three opened.


“Community pharmacies are private businesses”


However, Lord Markham stressed that “community pharmacies are private businesses, contracted to provide NHS pharmaceutical services”.

“When a local pharmacy closes, patients can choose to access pharmaceutical services through any alternative pharmacy,” he added.

He said that this can include “any of the over 400 distance selling pharmacies (DSPs) that are required to deliver medicines to patients free of charge”.

“In some rural areas, doctors are permitted to dispense medicines,” he added. 


Eight pharmacies closing a week


The data comes as analysis from the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) found that the last financial year “saw a record net loss of 432 pharmacies in England” overall.

This is more than five times as many as the previous financial year, which saw a net of 78 closures in total.

It said that the 2023/24 closure number equated to “an average of more than eight pharmacies…closing each week”.

Commenting on the “unprecedented rate” of closures, CCA chief executive Malcolm Harrison said that “pharmacies cannot be expected to operate at a loss and effectively subsidise the NHS any longer”.

“Without significant additional funding, fewer pharmacies will result in patients finding it even harder to access the medicines and clinical NHS care that they need,” he added.

Last year, the CCA found that 808 pharmacies had closed between 2015 and 2022 with only 138 opening – a net drop of 670.

In March, C+D’s Salary Survey revealed that contractors were left struggling to “make ends meet” with the majority reporting a drop in profitability and their own take-home pay last year.

And last month, C+D revealed that since 2021, the number of qualified, trainee and student pharmacists seeking grants and support with debts, benefits and housing have skyrocketed.

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