The announcement that Boots plans to close around 200 of its stores will come as no surprise in the current climate. With prescription item fees at such low levels, pharmacies of all shapes and sizes are struggling to survive the squeeze. But when the funding cuts were announced late in 2015, Boots believed that it was well placed to weather out the storm. Chief pharmacist Marc Donovan said the sector should use it as a "kick up the backside".
What Boots didn’t expect was the resilience of the independent sector. While numerous pharmacies closed their doors for the last time across the country, the vast majority have battened down the hatches, tightened the purse strings and kept themselves afloat. With smaller profits still spread across roughly the same size market, the breaking point finally came when Lloydspharmacy announced store closures two years after purchasing Sainsbury’s pharmacies.
Boots has now had to bite the bullet too. With 8% of its pharmacies closing, it’s not exactly a drop in the ocean.
These closures, while numerous, may not have a massive effect on the presence of Boots pharmacies across the UK. I’ve seen in many towns and cities, as I’m sure you have, two or more Boots branches on the same street. Considering they often compete against one another, I doubt that its market share will suffer too much. The closures will also no doubt make business sense. I have come across quite a few of the pharmacies due to close, where I questioned how they were making a profit at all. The answer, it appears, is that they weren’t.
However, for every duplicate pharmacy closing, there are others whose closure will be a blow to local communities. In my area, one store is closing where there is no other pharmacy for over two miles. As GP practices continue to merge, the pharmacy had lost its small practice next door, so struggled to get the walk-in business it needed to stay profitable. This pharmacy had provided a vital lifeline for elderly and vulnerable patients. Speaking to the pharmacist in charge, they painted a troublesome picture, struggling to find nearby pharmacies willing to dispense blister packs and deliver them to these patients.
It is the patients and staff of these pharmacies who are often forgotten about in these headlines. Local people who may have spent most of their working lives serving their communities admirably, only to find that the job they no doubt thought would always be secure would now be moving elsewhere. The story I have found is one where staff are more concerned for their patients than their future employment. Their care in the face of adversity is a credit to them and our profession as a whole, but it won’t bring their jobs back.
Times are tough and decisions must be made, but when the initial 6% cut in funding was announced, GP surgeries actually received a large increase in their funding. The decision by Boots to see funding cuts as a "kick up the backside" may have been seen as good business sense at the time, but the factional nature that still remains in community pharmacy hurts the profession as a whole.
The Multiple Manager works in a Northern Irish branch of a major pharmacy chain