The number of net pharmacy closures in England halved in 2021, according to data published by NHS Digital.
The data, published on 25 February 2022 and analysed by The Pharmaceutical Journal, revealed that 130 community pharmacies closed in 2021, while 37 pharmacies opened, leaving a net closure of 93 community pharmacies.
Of those that closed in 2021, Rowlands closed the most stores from a single multiple (25), followed by 21 LloydsPharmacy closures and 15 Boots closures.
A further 16 pharmacies have closed since the start of 2022, while 4 pharmacies have opened.
The latest number of pharmacy closures is less than half the number that closed in 2020, when The Pharmaceutical Journal revealed a net loss of 202 community pharmacies, with closures more likely to occur in deprived areas. Pharmacy closure rates have since showed signs of slowing. In September 2021, the same data, which is updated every three months, revealed a net closure of 64 community pharmacies up to the end of August 2021, compared with a net closure of 136 pharmacies in the same time period in 2020.
In February 2021, prime minister Boris Johnson said he did not want to see any pharmacies close.
Commenting on the number of closures in 2021, Andrew Lane, chair of the National Pharmacy Association, said: “No comfort can be taken from these numbers — the trajectory is still downwards and there will be more closures to come in England without a fresh injection of funds, as the analysis we commissioned from Ernst & Young [EY] in 2020 clearly showed.
“Meanwhile, there are many more pharmacies holding back investment in staff, premises and services, as they struggle to make ends meet.
“It makes no sense for capacity to be shrinking as healthcare needs continue to grow. Without sustained investment, community pharmacy will be unable to play its full role helping the NHS recover from the pandemic.”
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.
Mike Dent, director of pharmacy funding at the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), said: “Any pharmacy closure is a loss to the patients and community it serves, and PSNC members remain very concerned about the continuing squeeze on pharmacy finances and the potential that this has to close further pharmacies and businesses in the future.”
Why are pharmacies closing?
Community pharmacies in England are in the middle of a damaging five-year funding freeze, under their national contract with the NHS, which contrasts with rising investment in other parts of the health service.
This is leading to mass closures, with Boots previously announcing plans to close 200 pharmacies by September 2021 and a report commissioned by the National Pharmacy Association warning that more would follow if the current funding arrangements continue.
Government officials knew that under this funding freeze local pharmacies would close. Documents uncovered by The Pharmaceutical Journal in November 2020 revealed that the government was warned that the ‘Community pharmacy contractual framework for 2019/2020 to 2023/2024’ could cause an increase in pharmacy closures because of cost pressures related to launching new services.
Yet, following negotiations for year three of the five-year contractual framework, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) said it had received a “flat rejection” of additional funding for the sector from the Treasury.
The PSNC said in February 2022 that it would continue seeking a funding uplift as part of year four negotiations, despite assertions from the government that the outcome of the spending review means this is not possible.