Data on pharmacy openings and closures have revealed that 83 pharmacies closed by the end of May 2020 and 16 pharmacies opened, leaving a net closure of 67 pharmacies in that time.
This is nearly twice the net number of pharmacy closures in the first five months of 2019, when 59 pharmacies closed and 25 opened — a net closure of just 34 pharmacies, figures published by NHS Digital on 5 June 2020 show.
Pharmacy trade bodies have warned that there will be more closures “on the way” as additional funding for the sector to cope with COVID-19 demand has failed to materialise.
Of those that have closed in 2020 so far, 42 shut their doors after 23 March 2020 when the government imposed nationwide lockdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This includes five pharmacies that were located in shopping centres, which were required to close by the government as part of lockdown measures. Some six pharmacies are also listed as having opened during the first two months of lockdown.
The Edlington Lane branch of Weldricks Pharmacy in Doncaster was forced to close on 8 April 2020 as a result of financial pressures related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking on behalf of Weldricks Pharmacy, Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive officer of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp), said the branch “was a loss-making branch” before the pandemic.
“Then COVID-19 hit and the workload went up, and it was just way too much to continue keeping it open,” she said. “That’s the story that is across many areas — pharmacies are struggling to stay open.”
“They’ve got wholesale bill costs, they’ve got staff costs, they’re dealing with shortages left and right … and unfortunately some [pharmacies] are not viable to stay open,” she continued.
“There will be more on the way, because we still haven’t seen any funding.”
Simon Dukes, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), told The Pharmaceutical Journal that the PSNC “was concerned that the impact from the COVID-19 pandemic would lead to closures” from the start of the outbreak.
“The community pharmacy sector has been underfunded for several years and the additional pressure from the pandemic has only exacerbated pre-existing cost and capacity issues,” he said.
“This has inevitably pushed some less financially secure pharmacies over the edge. The PSNC will continue to work with the Department of Health and Social Care, and NHS England and NHS Improvement to fight for the resilience of the pharmacy network.”
The National Pharmacy Association (NPA), which said in March 2020 that dispensing had increased by up to a third that month owing to COVID-19, later added in May 2020 that thousands of pharmacies would close if they did not receive extra funding to manage to the demand.
Commenting on the closures so far in 2020, a spokesperson for the NPA warned that “many more pharmacies are at the risk of closure in the near future” and called for the government “to make good on commitments to meet all the additional costs associated with coronavirus, to help pharmacies stay open and maintain services”.
A spokesperson for Boots said that none of its 36 pharmacies that had closed in 2020 as of the end of May, did so as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. LloydsPharmacy, which has seen seven of its branches close in 2020 so far, said they were “planned for closure prior to the impact of COVID-19”.
NHS England declined to comment on this story.