Increase in patient nominations for distance-selling pharmacies slows drastically

Exclusive: The increase in the number of patients nominating a distance-selling pharmacy slowed to 4% over the past two years, down from almost 100% in the previous two years.
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Growth in the number of patients choosing distance-selling pharmacies (DSPs) through the electronic prescription service (EPS) has begun to slow, following a surge during the COVID-19 pandemic, analysis by The Pharmaceutical Journal has revealed.

The number of patients nominating DSPs, more commonly known as online pharmacies, for their electronic prescription to be sent to by default almost doubled during the two years following the start of the pandemic — from 999,498 in March 2020 to 1,950,497 in March 2022.

However, during the two years since then, the number has increased by only 4%, to reach 2,034,766 in February 2024 (data up to week ending 16 February 2024).

‘Bricks-and-mortar’ pharmacies have seen a 3% increase in their EPS nominations in the two years to February 2024, from 45,431,168 in March 2022 to 46,644,054 in February 2024. Nominations to DSPs accounted for 4% of the total nominations in the week ending 16 February 2024.

Market leader Pharmacy2U gained 244,389 nominations during the first 2 years of the pandemic, between March 2020 and March 2022, but around half as many — 136,676 nominations — over the following 2 years (see Table).

The second most popular DSP, LloydsDirect, gained 455,035 nominations between March 2020 and March 2022, but only 20,201 nominations over the following two years.

LloydsDirect was sold to Pharmacy2U in October 2023, but the businesses continued to operate separately while the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigated the deal.

The CMA revoked its initial order that prevented the integration of the two companies on 12 February 2024, but said that it had not yet taken a final decision on whether the merger could lead to a substantial lessening of competition in the market.

Commenting on the overall nominations data, Darren Powell, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s Digital Pharmacy Expert Advisory Group and clinical lead for the NHS England Transformation Directorate, said: “Perhaps it is a time of consolidation and readjustment in the DSP sector, but I still expect continued growth as the bricks and mortar numbers continue to decline, and ownership distributions change.

“I think those DSPs who engage with and are actively pursuing the developments in digital technology, and are providing their customers with data about their prescriptions and ease of access, are here to stay.”

Pharmacy2U did not respond to a request for comment on the nominations data.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, February 2024, Vol 312, No 7982;312(7982)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2024.1.256706

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