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‘Closing my pharmacy after COVID-19 struck is devastating’

"It is essential that the government takes notice of what is happening to independent pharmacies"

The COVID-19 outbreak worsened existing funding problems for community pharmacy, forcing the closure of a branch of my independent pharmacy group, says Stuart Gale

For years now, the pharmacy sector has warned of the unrealistic pressures on community pharmacy, from relentless government cuts to the impact of Brexit on the price and availability of certain medicines.

Frosts Pharmacy adapted to survive. We brought the local GP surgery into Marston Pharmacy, Oxford and in our other branches we opened travel clinics – which have proved incredibly successful. Then COVID-19 struck.

Patient demand for certain products went through the roof and wholesalers reacted accordingly by bumping up their prices. Rather than pass all these price hikes on to customers, we absorbed many of them, which had a negative impact on our bottom line.

This was compounded by staff having to work longer hours, with twice as many deliveries, which had further financial implications for the business We had two branches within 500m of one another and no matter how we did the sums, keeping both of them afloat was simply no longer viable.

Frosts Pharmacy group will do all it can to support the local community and our colleagues affected by the closure of our Northway Pharmacy, Oxford branch in August. Our Marston Pharmacy is able to accommodate all of our Northway Pharmacy patients.

All affected patients have been informed of the situation and advised of their options so that their care is not impacted. If they are unable to walk to Marston Pharmacy, we offer a delivery service.

It is essential that the government takes notice of what is happening to independent pharmacies such as mine. We will not be the last casualty of this crisis. As more pharmacies close, we face the very real prospect of communities around the country being left without a local pharmacy. The knock-on effect this will have on the already overburdened NHS cannot be underestimated.

My mother was a pharmacist, as was her father, so I have been involved with the industry in one way or another all my life. While we know online pharmacy has a role to play, bricks-and-mortar pharmacies are at the heart of the community, for our older customers especially.

This is why I have been campaigning on behalf of community pharmacy for many years now, warning of the long-term implications of government funding cuts. It has been devastating to see our worst fears play out.

Stuart Gale owns the two-branch Frost Pharmacy group in Oxford and Oxford Online Pharmacy

 

7 Comments

sunil maini, Community pharmacist

Truly incredible.Whilst the NPA and PSNC pat themselves on the back for getting a Minister to visit a pharmacy and give thanks for being in the front line,no mention of new funding to help with all the extra costs incurred and risks taken while most were at home.Spineless as ever,our "representatives" have let us down again.And again.And again.

R A, Community pharmacist

I think the most worrying thing is that thanks to COVID-19 the goverment may legitimately argue that they dont have the means to continue to run a well funded healthcare system because our economy is on its last legs. Therefore even current system is financially too generous. 

A significant portion of the British population fail to realise that much of public expenditure is funded through debt on the premise that UK will pay an interest on that loan. However as things stand we are in a financially precarious situation and unless we can kick start our economy we face a pretty bleak outlook. 

A.S. Singh, Community pharmacist

I highly doubt they will get rid of the NHS since it is embedded within British culture. More cuts yes but the NHS will still be funded. HS2 will need to go though

mark straughton, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Really sorry to hear this. This situation is not going to get any easier but really can't absorb costs. Must start passing on costs to the customers if this is delvieries or charging for blister trays . Even reducing staff costs coudl be considered for immediate survival. Also have a business plan which accommodates the worse case scenario in wholesale prices. This is all in the name of giving more time to weigh up the options. The independent community pharmacy sector is no longer viable, if not now, certainly in the long run.

Adam Hall, Community pharmacist

I feel great sympathy for Mr Gale and the staff affected. However, pharmacy cannot afford to absorb wholesaler price rises and all the other increased costs, such as increased deliveries. These HAVE to be passed on to the customer. Just like GP surgeries, we are not a charity 

Kevin Western, Community pharmacist

Mr Ridge will be doing handstands. My deepest sympathies on what must have been a truly horrible experience, but this is what the DoH have been trying to do...and its obviously succeeding

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

First of many I fear. The writing was on the wall when money was taken from dispensing and transferred to services which has led to the intolerable pressures on pharmacists and staff and also to the rapid erosion of pharmacy incomes. Dispensing comes at a loss nowadays yet it is the one service we HAVE to do no matter what and dispensing volume (and hence loss of income and time) has increased enormously. You have to admire the DoH (while at the same time despising them) for how they have managed to run pharmacy into the ground to save a buck or two.

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