The freeze on pharmacy funding is taking its toll on the profit margins of pharmacies. In some cases, this has been fatal. Summerhill Pharmacy in Ramsgate, Kent closed its doors to patients at the start of February.
Despite its proximity to the next-door GP surgery, and dispensing around 8,000 items monthly, the pharmacy had been losing approximately £10,000 a month.
Graham Phillips, director of the Manor Pharmacy group, says that the store had been “on the point of bankruptcy”, giving him no choice but to close.
Summerhill Pharmacy had been in an area of "high need", serving a population of 12,000 and was not part of a "cluster", the government term for pharmacies closely situated to one another – a situation it wants to prevent. The GP practice was also struggling to attract GPs, but the pharmacy had been helping it to save money, says Mr Phillips.
The Manor Pharmacy Group is now down to three pharmacies, two of which are also in Ramsgate. But Mr Phillips says he is “utterly depressed” about the future of his other branches.
"They are all losing money so are completely unsustainable, even though they are busy, award-winning and highly thought of by our customers," he tells C+D. Nevertheless, he is proud that the Summerhill Pharmacy staff have been relocated to the group’s nearby branches for the time being.
Underfunded service push
Although Summerhill Pharmacy was brought to its knees by funding issues that started in 2016, Mr Phillips supports parts of the five-year pharmacy funding deal announced last year. “I’ve been arguing for 20 years that community pharmacy should have a massive clinical role”, he says.
The deal shifted the focus from dispensing to clinical services. However, Summerhill Pharmacy was unable to put these plans into action. “A lack of funding meant we couldn’t invest in service development,” Mr Phillips explains.
“We would have loved to have done a whole raft of advanced and enhanced services. We did a lot of smoking cessation, which will go.”
The effect of the government funding will be to keep the pharmacies that are cheapest to run open, he says.
“I feel betrayed. I gave the best 35 years of my life to the NHS and I love pharmacy and my customers, but I hate how we’ve been treated. The large corporates survive but businesses like mine are being lost. Once you destroy a network, it never comes back. I’m living the nightmare.”