Rowlands Pharmacy has said it will cut pharmacy opening hours by an average of ten hours per week early in 2021.
The multiple, which operates more than 500 pharmacies across Great Britain, said its move — which will only apply in England — comes as a response to “the level of funding” in the community pharmacy sector.
In a statement, Mark Bather, managing director of Rowlands Pharmacy, said the current pharmacy contact in England “is not fit for purpose and does not provide the level of funding which the sector requires. That has an impact on us and independent pharmacies”.
He added that the company will need to “align our opening hours to reflect what the NHS has asked, contractually, us to provide and is prepared to fund”.
In March 2020, Rowlands said that 75% of its pharmacies opened for longer than the 40 hours that are contractually required per week, but that this was not financially sustainable. At that time, the company said it was consulting with staff over plans to reduce opening hours “as a direct consequence of the funding austerity facing community pharmacy in England”.
A spokesperson for Phoenix Medical Supplies, the parent company of Rowlands Pharmacy, told The Pharmaceutical Journal on 6 October 2020 that the proposed reduction in hours would affect most Rowlands pharmacy branches in England from February 2021.
“On average, we anticipate a reduction of ten hours per branch each working week,” the spokesperson confirmed, adding that “we believe the impact on customers will be minimal and we will ensure they are informed well in advance before opening hours change”.
The spokesperson reiterated that “in previous years, opening the pharmacy outside of those [hours] required by our NHS contracts made commercial sense, but that is not the case nowadays”.
In his statement, Bather said that the respective governments in Scotland and Wales “are keen to expand and support financially the role of community pharmacy as the third pillar of healthcare access, alongside GP surgeries and A&E departments.
“We hope the government in England will now consider investing in community pharmacy, given our ongoing frontline role in fighting COVID-19, and providing access to essential healthcare advice and services beyond dispensing.”
Among the other major pharmacy chains, a spokesperson for the UK’s biggest chain, Boots, said that it had no current plans to reduce pharmacy opening hours. LloydsPharmacy and Well were contacted for comment.