More than one billion prescriptions were dispensed by community pharmacies in England last year, the first time the billion prescription mark has been reached.
Figures from NHS Digital show that 1,015.6 million prescriptions were dispensed by 11,699 community pharmacies operating in 2016–2017. This is an increase of 11 in the number of pharmacies operating in England on the previous year.
However, the data also reveal that the number of independent community pharmacies operating in England fell last year by 14 to 4,434 from 4,448 the previous year. And the figures show that while 47 community pharmacies closed during the 2016–2017 year, 63 opened.
Reaction to findings
Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee chief executive Sue Sharpe said the NHS Digital figures came too early to reflect the effects of funding cuts on community pharmacy, which first hit in December 2016.
“Payment systems mean the impact of cuts is not seen for several months,” she said.
“A further cut was implemented from 1 April 2017 so these figures cannot give the full picture of how the imposed funding package is now impacting on the community pharmacy network.”
Sharpe said that a reduction in category M reimbursement prices and a rise in the cost of generics over the summer of 2017 meant that pharmacies were experiencing “critical cashflow issues” from their 1 November 2017 payment.
“Pharmacy teams are working extremely hard to continue offering services to patients and many will not now be covering their costs,” she said.
“We have already seen some news of closures, such as Celesio UK announcing the closure or sale of 190 LloydsPharmacies. It is too early to predict what pharmacy numbers will be after the effect of these cuts have been felt.”
The NHS Digital figures also show that £1.032bn was received in dispensing fees by community pharmacies last year, the highest amount ever, with an average of 88,270 fees received on average by each pharmacy.
The number of items dispensed on average per community pharmacy was also at its highest ever level last year at 7,218, an increase on 7,096 the previous year.
The largest ever proportion of community pharmacies provided medicines use reviews (MURs) last year, with 96.1% of pharmacies offering the service. A total of 3,368,005 MURs were carried out by community pharmacies last year at an average of 300 per pharmacy.
And a new medicine service was provided by 85.2% of community pharmacies in 2016–2017, the highest ever proportion, meaning that 9,972 of England’s community pharmacies offered the service.
The seasonal flu vaccination programme for adults was provided by 8,451 community pharmacies last year, or 72.2% of the total. This was an increase on the 61.6% of pharmacies which gave the jab the previous year.
There were 321 online-only or mail order “distance selling” pharmacies operating in England last year, up from 266 the previous year.