Plans for pharmacies to deliver more NHS care at risk as hundreds close, MPs are warned
- This financial year alone, an average of eight pharmacies have closed every week
Plans for pharmacies to provide more NHS care are at risk from widespread closures, MPs were warned today.
The government and NHS England want pharmacies to ease the pressure on GPs by carrying out more health checks and prescribing some medicines themselves.
But the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA), the trade body for chains such as Boots and Superdrug, said a lack of funding and staff could thwart the move.
Chief executive Malcolm Harrison will today tell MPs on the Commons Health and Social Care Committee that there has been a net loss of 1,008 pharmacies in England since 2015.
This financial year alone, an average of eight pharmacies have closed every week and others are struggling to survive, the CCA analysis shows.
The government and NHS England want pharmacies to ease pressure on GPs by carrying out more health checks and self-prescribing certain medicines (file image)
Deprived areas are the most dependent on pharmacies but have been hardest hit by the closures, with 37.5 percent of pharmacies that closed between 2015 and June 2023 being in the poorest 20 percent of the country.
The NHS will launch a Pharmacy First program early next year, referring patients to pharmacies for care in the hope of freeing up ten million GP appointments.
Pharmacists could provide advice and NHS-funded treatment for seven common conditions: sinusitis, sore throats, middle ear infections, infected insect bites, impetigo, shingles and uncomplicated urinary tract infections in women.
The NHS also announced last week that from next month millions of women will be able to get the contraceptive pill from a pharmacist without visiting a GP.
However, the CCA said that the NHS pharmacy budget has been cut in real terms since 2015-16, leaving each pharmacy £67,000 worse off every year.
This limits their ability to hire staff and expand their service, it adds.
Meanwhile, almost 4,000 community pharmacists have quit their jobs to take up a role in GP practices, where they are used to carrying out drug checks for patients taking a cocktail of medicines.
Mr Harrison told the Mail: ‘A toxic mix of funding, labor and workload is preventing pharmacies from delivering what the government wants them to deliver.
‘Pharmacies provide many more services and dispense more medicines for an increasingly smaller pot of money. This is simply unsustainable.’
It is estimated that 89.2 percent of the population lives within a 20-minute walk of a pharmacy. But the CCA fears patients will be less likely to seek care if they have to travel further to be seen.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: ‘Community pharmacies play a vital role in our healthcare system, supported by £2.6 billion a year.
‘We have announced £645 million in funding to support community pharmacies to provide prescription medicines for seven common conditions, without the patient having to see a GP.’