More community pharmacies closed in 2021 but rate has slowed

Exclusive: An analysis of NHS Digital data by The Pharmaceutical Journal has revealed a net closure of 64 community pharmacies in England up to the end of August 2021, compared with a net closure of 136 pharmacies in the same time period in 2020.

The number of pharmacies that have closed on net in England within the first eight months of 2021 has halved year-on-year, according to data published by NHS Digital.

However, pharmacy representatives have said there is “little comfort” in the slowing rate of closures as it means “less capacity at a time when healthcare needs are growing”.

The data, published on 27 August 2021 and analysed by The Pharmaceutical Journal, revealed that 87 community pharmacies have closed while 23 pharmacies have opened in 2021 so far, as of the end of August 2021, leaving a net closure of 64 community pharmacies in that time.

An additional two pharmacies were noted as being active but had planned closure dates in the first week of September 2021, while three pharmacies were listed as proposed to open by 6 September 2021.

To date, the net number of pharmacy closures in 2021 is a 53% decrease on the net number of closures in the first eight months of 2020, when it was revealed that 155 pharmacies had closed and 19 had opened, leaving a net closure of 136 pharmacies.

Nearly half of the closures (43) in 2021 were independent pharmacies or small multiples, with Boots, LloydsPharmacy and Rowlands Pharmacy also closing branches.

Mike Dent, director of pharmacy funding at the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), said: “Any pharmacy closure is a loss to the community it serves.”

He added that the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic “have been some of the toughest that community pharmacy has ever faced, and NHS funding continues to put many contractors under intolerable financial strain”.

“PSNC is concerned about the potential for continuing closures, and also that many pharmacy businesses are only surviving by making cost-cutting measures that are impacting negatively on patients,” he said.

Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, agreed that pharmacy contractors are “resisting pressures to close individual pharmacies which are struggling or even loss-making under the current funding by having to severely reduce costs, reduce investment and also cross-fund from profitable to loss-making pharmacies”.

“This is because our members are committed and passionate about providing independent pharmacy healthcare services in their local communities.

“Each year that they are forced to do this makes our members’ businesses weaker and less stable, and if funding is not reviewed to a sustainable level, there will eventually be a chaotic degradation of the pharmacy network in England and Wales.”

The PSNC previously said that it submitted a bid for an increase to contractual funding above the agreed £2.592bn per year until 2023/2024, as part of its annual contractual negotiations, but that this was “flatly rejected” by the government.

Mark Lyonette, chief executive of the National Pharmacy Association, said: “Further closures means less capacity at a time when healthcare needs are growing and community-based provision needs to step up a gear.

“We take little comfort if the rate of decline in England has slowed compared to the previous year, as the trajectory is still downwards and, fundamentally, the financials don’t stack up.

“Sadly, there is more of this to come in England without a fresh injection of funds, as the analysis we commissioned from EY showed very clearly.”

The report from EY, published in September 2020, found that up to 85% of community pharmacies in England will be in financial deficit by 2024 if the funding arrangements remain the same.

The decline in the pharmacy closure rate comes after The Pharmaceutical Journal revealed that nearly four pharmacies closed per week in 2020, with more than four times as many closing in the most deprived parts of England than in the most affluent areas of the country.

READ MORE: Pharmacy ‘first ports of call’ are disappearing in struggling communities

Last updated
Citation
The Pharmaceutical Journal, September 2021;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2021.1.103708