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63% closure rise sees lowest number of English pharmacies since 2015

The number of community pharmacies is now the lowest in five years
The number of community pharmacies is now the lowest in five years

There has been a 63% rise in community pharmacies closures in England over the past five years, leading to the lowest number of pharmacies since 2015/16, NHS data has revealed.

There were more than 400 community pharmacy closures England in 2019/20, a 63% increase compared to 2015/16, according to figures released by the NHS Business Services Authority (NHS BSA) today.

The General Pharmaceutical Services in England 2015/16 - 2019/20 report looked at the activities carried out by community pharmacies and appliance contractors in England over a five year period – from 2015/16 to 2019/20.

It found that 405 community pharmacies closed in 2019/20, compared to 248 in 2015/16. There were also 239 pharmacies that opened in 2019/20, down 5% on the 252 openings seen five years ago.

The total number of community pharmacies in England in 2019/20 was 11,826, down 1% on 2015/16, when there were 11,949.

The figures revealed that the number of independent contractors decreased 2.3% – from 4,827 in 2015/16, to 4,716 in 2019/20.

The number of multiple contractors was almost the same as five years ago, down only 0.2% from 7,122 in 2015/16 to 7,110 in 2019/20.

However, the number of distance selling pharmacies increased by 207%, from 127 in 2015/16 to 390 in 2019/20.

The report said: “The number of active community pharmacies in 2019/20 is the lowest it has been in the previous five years. This follows two consecutive years of decreases, with the number of community pharmacies decreasing by 1.22% between 2017/18 and 2019/20.”

Risk of “irreversible decline”

Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) CEO Leyla Hannbeck told C+D today (November 19) that AIMp is “surprised there have not been more closures despite the very difficult financial position that the current funding model has forced pharmacies into”.

“Our members are clearly going above and beyond in delivering services and healthcare while dealing with increasing dispensing volumes and associated issues, such as shortages,” she said. This “cannot go on indefinitely without pharmacy closures disrupting the national pharmacy network”, Ms Hannbeck added.

National Pharmacy Association chair Andrew Lane told C+D today that: “In recent years, pharmacies have done more and more, but for less return. Too many pharmacies have been running on empty and closures are inevitable in these circumstances. The pressures of COVID-19 appear to be exacerbating the already crushing financial circumstances.

“Without a change to the current underfunding, we will witness the irreversible decline of the community pharmacy network in England. That’s why the NPA is pushing hard for change.”

Increase in prescriptions dispensed

Despite a decrease in pharmacies, the report found that the number of prescriptions dispensed by community pharmacies and appliance contractors has increased by 4.3% in the past five years. In 2019/20 there were 1,046 million prescription items dispensed, compared with 1,003m items in 2015/16.

The cost of drugs and appliances reimbursed to community pharmacies and appliance contractors was on a similar level to five years ago, down just 0.2% from £8,664 million in 2015/16, to £8,649 million in 2019/20.

The NHS BSA report comes two months after a report commissioned by the National Pharmacy Association, published on September 4, forecast that 72% of community pharmacies in England will be in deficit by 2024.

Last month (October 23), Boots announced that it was to resume its previously announced 200 branch closures after temporarily pausing them due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with 138 completed so far.

In August, Lloydspharmacy announced that it was closing a “small number” of pharmacies in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. Last year, Lloydspharmacy CEO Toby Anderson told C+D that closures were expected due to the government’s commitment to five years of flat funding.

What do you make of these figures?

Richard MacLeavy, Dispenser Manager/ Dispensing Assistant

It will be interesting to see what the picture looks like in 12 months time as the last 6 months or so have seen alot of closures, especially amongst the multiples. 

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

Less pharmacies, more pharmacists. What is the point any more? Glad I'm leaving.

PoPeYe- Popeys Car Wash, Community pharmacist

The point is, of course, that we will be working for "Burger King money" as my dentist brother-in-law opined. Whilst pointing out that when they're finished with us the gaze will further turn towards his own profession.

C D, Community pharmacist

Looks like the data they have published is wrong. They say 239 pharmacies opened in 2019/20, but that appears to include any pharmacy that went through a change of ownership and possibly those that relocated so they are not really new openings.

John Willetts, Locum pharmacist

I am reminded of the old rhyme:  "We have been doing more and more with less and less. We have been doing so much, with so little, for so long, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing ......"

Meera Sharma, Pharmacy owner/ Proprietor

“Without a change to the current underfunding, we will witness the irreversible decline of the community pharmacy network in England.  That’s why the NPA is pushing hard for change.”

The NPA are irrelevant now. waste of membership fee. we left them and never looked back. The number of closures may not be high but it is very tough and worrying out there



MrR Patel, Community pharmacist

I agree with you Meera

mohamed nanji, Community pharmacist

NPA is the best organisation.

Totaly support NPA.

Ashley Pharmacist , Pharmacy owner/ Proprietor

Judging by the number of thumbs down on your post, it seems most people don't agree with you mr Nanji

MrR Patel, Community pharmacist

Mohamed i think you have low standards and expectations. Perhaps we would have been better off as a sector if we demanded higher standards and expectations of those who claim they are representing us! 

Leon The Apothecary, Student

The figures are hardly surprising. There is a question of understanding which were due to the pandemic, and which were likely to close because of other factors.

Mr CAUSTIC, Community pharmacist

how long till government target for closures is reached ?

MrR Patel, Community pharmacist

that's a good question...

Axed Locum, Locum pharmacist

The total number of community pharmacies in England in 2019/20 was 11,826, down 1% on 2015/16, when there were 11,949.

Net closures 123 over five years equating to 1% - doesn't sound as sexi-ting, juicy and spicy as  63% increase in closures!!. Interpretation of data is fascinating, almost magical. 


Dave Downham, Manager

I agree with your comment re interpretation of data.

You yourself are being selective with the data to suit your anti-contractor agenda. You could say that in 1912, there were 8,134 pharmacies, so net openings increasing by 45.4% sounds like an industry experiencing rapid growth.

Better to look at decrease of 146 community pharmacies (1.22%) in last 2 years right up to the point before Covid, or, if you prefer, about 1,000 people out of a job.

Benie Locum, Locum pharmacist

You're correct. though to be fair if billionaires like Branson et al have their hands out begging for money and crying penury...

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