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And you thought getting an appointment was difficult now! Pressure on GPs will increase as a result of the ‘tsunami’ of pharmacy closures, industry bosses have warned

The closure of hundreds of pharmacies has added to the pressure on ailing GP practices, industry bosses warned today.

The Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMP) has stated that more than 400 community pharmacies across England have closed between 2019 and 2023. This also applies to chains such as Boots.

And it warned of a ‘tsunami of further pharmacy closures across the country’ due to the pressure on the system.

AIMP urgently demanded change and called on the government to ‘properly fund’ its flagship Pharmacy First programme.

The latest data from the NHS Business Services Authority, published in October, shows that just 11,414 community pharmacies remained in the 2022/2023 financial year. Although the number of premises closures has consistently exceeded those opened, 2022/23 was the lowest level since 2015, exposing the demise of primary care in England

Under the programme, patients with seven common conditions, including sinusitis, earache and impetigo, are encouraged to seek help from a pharmacy rather than their GP.

But the association claims the community pharmacy sector is already facing a £1.2 billion funding gap.

Dr. Leyla Hannbeck, CEO of AIMP, said: ‘Our new analysis clearly shows that the loss of community pharmacies is further increasing pressure on hard-pressed GP practices.

“Our community pharmacy teams are working heroically to help their patients, but the odds are against them.

“Every day I hear from pharmacists working excessive hours, losing money, falling into debt and plagued by financial worries, unsure if they can keep the doors open.

As part of NHS plans to free up millions of GP appointments, chemists can now hand out contraceptive pills to women.  Pharmacists in the big stores also have the power to dispense prescriptions for common ailments, meaning patients struggling with minor illnesses can bypass their GP.  Under wider plans, pharmacists are also offering more blood pressure checks to at-risk patients, with a commitment to provide 2.5 million a year by spring 2025

As part of NHS plans to free up millions of GP appointments, chemists can now hand out contraceptive pills to women. Pharmacists in the big stores also have the power to dispense prescriptions for common ailments, meaning patients struggling with minor illnesses can bypass their GP. Under wider plans, pharmacists are also offering more blood pressure checks to at-risk patients, with a commitment to provide 2.5 million a year by spring 2025

Boots has closed branches en masse in recent months, while LloydsPharmacy has closed its doors completely.  Pictured: A Lloyds Pharmacy store in Bracknell, Berkshire

Boots has closed branches en masse in recent months, while LloydsPharmacy has closed its doors completely. Pictured: A Lloyds Pharmacy store in Bracknell, Berkshire

“Some have to turn to family and friends for financial help to keep going.

‘We want to be part of the solution to many of the problems facing the NHS, but chronic underfunding, drug supply challenges and a dysfunctional reimbursement system have created the perfect storm of pharmacy closures.’

Dr. Hannbeck added: “If we continue down this path, we risk a tsunami of further pharmacy closures across the country.”

She warned that ‘to realize pharmacy’s full potential and reduce pressure on GPs’ ministers need to spend billions more on the Pharmacy First initiative.

This would “address the contract rot that is infecting our industry, leaving many pharmacists struggling as closures spread,” she said.

Dr. Hannbeck added: ‘The consequences of a series of further closures would be devastating.

“This is why today we are launching our new Fight4Pharmacies campaign to call on the government to invest in community pharmacies and work with us to restore our broken contract.”

Major pharmacy chains Boots and LloydsPharmacy have closed branches en masse in recent months.

Last June, LloydsPharmacy closed all of its 237 Sainsbury’s branches, and Boots announced the closure of 300 of its 2,200 stores in Britain.

Industry leaders say the closure of pharmacies means patients are forced to make longer journeys for essential treatments or ‘miss out on everything’.

The Department of Health and Social Care said it ‘does not recognize’ the AIMP funding gap.

A spokesperson added: ‘We have made available up to £645 million of new funding to support the expansion of community pharmacy services, adding to the £2 billion that pharmacies already receive per year.

‘Pharmacy First is expected to free up 10 million GP appointments per year. It has been widely welcomed by the pharmacy sector and so far 98 percent of pharmacies have signed up to supply it.

‘Four in five people live within a twenty-minute walk of a pharmacy and there are twice as many pharmacies in deprived areas, making access to care faster and easier.’