Number of community pharmacies in England falls for fifth year in a row

There was a net loss of 91 community pharmacies in England in 2022/2023.
pharmacy on street with shutters down

The number of community pharmacies in England has fallen for the fifth consecutive year, NHS data show.

Figures published by the NHS Business Services Authority (NHS BSA) on 12 October 2023 reveal that although 297 community pharmacies opened in 2022/2023, 388 community pharmacies closed, resulting in a net loss of 91 community pharmacies across England.

At the end of March 2023, there were 11,414 active community pharmacies — defined as those that have submitted prescriptions to NHS Prescription Services for reimbursement — in England, compared with 11,522 active community pharmacies the previous year.

Meanwhile, there were 398 distance-selling pharmacies at the end of March 2023 — an increase of 6.1% from 375 distance-selling pharmacies in 2021/2022.

The NHS BSA figures also show that 1.08 billion prescriptions were dispensed in 2022/2023, an increase of 3.4% on 2021/2022, when 1.04 billion prescriptions were dispensed.

Commenting on the figures, Helga Mangion, policy manager at the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), said that downward movement of pharmacy numbers was “inevitable in the light of long-term underfunding”.

She added: “Successive reports commissioned by the NPA, most recently by academics at University College London and the London School of Economics, predict further widespread closures unless substantial new NHS investment is forthcoming.  

“In fact, these closure figures tell only part of the sad story of decline, because many independent pharmacies are hanging on by their fingernails by reducing opening hours and reducing value-adding services, such as home deliveries.

“A brighter future is possible for community pharmacy, based on properly funded clinical services within a truly integrated health service and a long term shift of NHS resources to primary and preventative care.”

The NHS BSA data show that the most closures, by integrated care board (ICB) region, were within the NHS Cheshire and Merseyside ICB area. In 2022/2023, 19 community pharmacies closed and 8 community pharmacies opened in the region.

Matt Harvey, chief officer of Community Pharmacy Liverpool, told The Pharmaceutical Journal that ten community pharmacies in Liverpool had closed in the past year, which were “a mixture of multiples and independents, who have struggled to make their businesses work in the current strained environment”.

“We have also seen a reduction in hours locally with most 100-hour pharmacies choosing to reduce hours following regulatory changes,” Harvey added. “This is leading to increased pressure on the remaining estate. Unfortunately, I foresee further closures in the pipeline.”

An analysis of NHS and government data by The Pharmaceutical Journal, published in January 2023, revealed that, of the 118 community pharmacy closures that occurred between October 2021 and September 2022, 27 closures were in the 10% most health-deprived areas, while just 5 closures were in the 10% healthiest areas of England.

Commenting on the 2022/2023 figures, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “Community pharmacies play a vital role in our healthcare system, backed by £2.6bn a year, with 80% of people living within a 20-minute walk of a pharmacy and twice as many pharmacies in deprived areas.

“As part of our long-term workforce plan, we’re providing thousands more training places for pharmacists and we have already announced £645m in additional funding to support community pharmacies to supply prescription-only medicines for seven common conditions without the patient needing need to see a GP, which was widely welcomed by the sector.”

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, October 2023, Vol 311, No 7978;311(7978)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2023.1.198337

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