The 10 pharmacies I owned were mostly in affluent villages in south-east England, but we also served a few council estates. These house a disproportionately high population of elderly people, who are often isolated.
I have practised pharmacy for 35 years. My pharmacy group has won pretty much every sector award. I’ve hosted numerous government ministers, MPs and senior NHS officials at my branches.
After the 2015 funding cuts, my pharmacies maximised other sources of NHS income – taking in £30,000 for flu vaccinations across the group, conducting 400 medicines use reviews per branch and scoring 100% on quality payments.
However, all of this combined was not enough to cover the loss of income from core funding cuts. From 2016-18 medicines costs went up by 3%, while operating costs such as water and rent increased by 17%.
Last year, my pharmacy group had a £10 million turnover, but a net loss of £300,000. At one point we were £1 million overdrawn. I was on the verge of bankruptcy, and only just avoided a mental breakdown.
This was totally unsustainable. I was fortunate to find a buyer for six of our 10 branches. This has, for now, reduced my debt. However, the remaining branches are all losing money. Our group’s net profit dropped from 3% in 2016 to -5% in 2018.
No one is owed a living or entitled to a subsidy. But there is potential for community pharmacists to take so much pressure off other parts of the NHS and do so at a fraction of the cost of a GP or A&E department.
Pharmacies are a local lifeline. I vividly recall the day my own pharmacy team helped save a baby’s life, after the mother brought the child in with what turned out to be sepsis.
On the other hand, if the NHS and the government back pharmacies like mine across the country, with sufficient funding, I’m sure we could transform healthcare for the better.
By emphasising clinical services, the five-year contractual framework sets out a good destination – but we need fuel for the journey or we’ll never get there.
You’d be hard pressed to find a pharmacist more willing than me to embrace innovation and new public health services. However, the pharmacy funding situation is draining contractors of resources and energy and making me doubt that there’s a future for me at all in community pharmacy.
The contractor owns four pharmacies in south-east England
This article is part of a collaboration between C+D and the National Pharmacy Association to draw attention to the financial conditions independent contractors are facing.