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‘Boots’ 200 branches could be start of a wave of closures’

"Patients may struggle to get access to much-needed services and prescriptions"

The 200 Boots branch closures may be the start of more pharmacies shutting as the sector crumbles due to insufficient funding, warns pharmacist Laura Buckley

Boots closing a few of its doors should pose no shock to anyone who keeps themselves informed with pharmacy news. After all, it follows Lloydspharmacy's decision to close 78 “unviable” branches in 2018.

And with the new pharmacy funding contract announced last month, who can be surprised? I made my views on the ‘progressive decline’ in funding that we’ve been uncharitably given clear in my last blog, and I fear Boots closures are just the prologue to a dramatic act in pharmacy. Multiples are now caving to financial pressures and independents may already be silently surrendering to the inevitable, closing their doors before selling becomes unprofitable.

While locations have yet to be revealed, approximately 8% of Boots’ branches are poised to close, and the multiple anticipates that these will be the smaller, less profitable, stores. But the company also saw its operating profits drop 22% in 2018, and announced a cut to jobs at its head office earlier this year.

Together with the rollout of its skin-scanning service, 'express' collection lanes and online prescription services, Boots is attempting to maintain its attraction to patients by creating a more modernised pharmacy experience. But will this be enough to keep things going in the future of the pharmacy world? And rather than opening more stores, does Boots not have a duty to maintain the pharmacies it already has for the patients that rely on them?

Back in 2016, the government announced it expected up to 3,000 pharmacies to close. It seems its desire to reduce our numbers is finally being fulfilled. Funding cuts left, right and centre combined with an overall rise in wages and property rental rates leave little option but to sell up or shut shop.

But how will this impact pharmacy teams? A drop in pharmacy numbers would leave an excess of pharmacists looking for work. The surviving pharmacies will recoup some losses by offering lower wages and locum rates to those pharmacists, who will have to work harder to manage the increase in workload.

The pharmacy closures will undoubtedly affect access to much-needed services and prescriptions, more so in rural areas. Community pharmacy has prided itself on accessibility for patients, but when closures like this happen, how can we present ourselves as the forefront of healthcare?

In the past we have had to demonstrate our worth through a pharmaceutical needs assessment. Has the government made assessments to see whether communities will survive without pharmacies that are to close, when large multiples deem these branches to be negative figures in their accounting books?

Boots pharmacy closures are just another set of figures that epitomise the state of our healthcare system. The pharmacy sector is crumbling under the financial pressures the government has enforced. While it relaxes in the knowledge that pharmacies are being picked off one by one, pharmacists and patients alike will struggle. If the government wishes to avoid a further demise of the pharmacy sector, it ought to revise its recent funding decisions.

Laura Buckley is a community pharmacist based in north England

6 Comments

Leon The Apothecary, Student

I think the signs were several years back that Pharmacy as an industry needs to level up. And unfortunately, consolidation is going to be a big part of that.

Mark Boland, Pharmaceutical Adviser

'I fear Boots closures are just the prologue to a dramatic act in pharmacy'

The prologue started in 2005 when they signed a contract that sealed the fate of community pharmacy. The 'clinical visionaries' within community pharmacy who championed this contract belittled those pharmacists who rejected the phoney services and who understood longterm survival was dependent on the protection of the supply function (as in France and Germany). Those visionaries either moved onto another hiding place within the NHS bureaucracy or they remained, conveniently forgetting what they did nearly 15 years ago.

'Multiples are now caving to financial pressures and independents may already be silently surrendering to the inevitable, closing their doors before selling becomes unprofitable'

Without a generous contract, they are now facing the reality of having to operate efficiently. For decades they operated as you would expect monoplists to operate - incompetently. This is not a recent development, it has been years in the making.

'The surviving pharmacies will recoup some losses by offering lower wages and locum rates to those pharmacists, who will have to work harder to manage the increase in workload'

Falling wages and increased workloads have been the case for over 10 years, it was what masked the operational and financial incompetence of the owners.

'Boots pharmacy closures are just another set of figures that epitomise the state of our healthcare system. The pharmacy sector is crumbling under the financial pressures the government has enforced'

The NHS has in fact received extra funds, just none of it has gone to community pharmacy. As far as I can see, Boots epitomises nothing other than shareholder returns and management compensation. If funding was to increase, the employees would never see the benefit of any of it.

Marc Borson, Community pharmacist

 

 

A brillant contribution well done Mark. One of the biggest issues that appears to be missed is closures costs. Any business that decides to close with our full liquidation, however -unlikley - will not be able to transfer stock so it will have to pay form stock destruction, each staff member requires redundancy payouts which could easily reach £100,000 for a few long serving staff, then there are leases and ongoing contracts. How could a store merge if faced with these costs. BTW you cant just clear your bank account out either - this is called illegal prefential creditor payements. So the whole idea of cloure or merger is impossible. Thats why you have not seen many independants. Sure chains are doing it but they could possibly afford due staff and assest relocation and possibly lease expiry.

If the DoH want to reduce numbers, cover the stock and staff redundancy costs, buy shop leases at the least. This is common practise when they deal with the actual NHS departments so they need to offer this way out to contractors.

Reeyah H, Community pharmacist

The DHSC should contact every 100 hour pharmacy and give them an incentive to shut their doors. 

Ranjeev Patel, Non Pharmacist Branch Manager

Great comment, not something that many people will like to read, but that's tough I guess.

Ranjeev Patel, Non Pharmacist Branch Manager

The average pharmacist salary in the USA is £43 an hour, yes, average! I know few people can just up sticks and leave everything behind but that might be an option for a few. Hospitals in Singapore pay native English speaking pharmacists well, too. Failing that, pharmacists' skills can be transferred to other, much better paid and more respected roles. Don't leave it until your pharmacy get closed, have a back-up plan in place.

With the cost of living, and consequentially the minimum wage rising, and locum rates falling, I would suggest that they could reach parity in under a decade if pharmacies continue to close as locums simply won't be needed. A four year master's and a pre-reg year to earn the minimum wage - maybe then some of the Universities of North-East Nowhere will have to close their pharmacy degree courses down.

If you are educated and have talents and abilities, go and find someone who will appreciate that. Don't work in community pharmacy for goodness' sake, it's a sure-fire way to end up with depression, anxiety and the inevitable follow up to that. Run a mile, there are many ways to earn a living in this world, and I can tell you now that community pharmacy in the UK has to be the worst possible option for anyone with a modicum of self-respect.

You will be brow beaten into doing things that don't help your customers, and you will be paid buttons.

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