The potential closure of hundreds of supermarket-based pharmacies could displace nearly 1 million patient prescriptions each month in England, with the extra work expected to be shifted on to surrounding pharmacies, an analysis by The Pharmaceutical Journal has found.
Following an analysis of latest available monthly data published by NHS Business Services Authority, The Pharmaceutical Journal has found that the pharmacies at risk of closure dispensed a total of 984,246 prescriptions in October 2022.
This includes dispensing from 228 LloydsPharmacy branches located in Sainsbury’s stores and 7 Asda pharmacies in England. The analysis does not include 8 Tesco pharmacies, which are also at risk of closure but of which locations are yet to be announced.
There are also 9 LloydsPharmacy branches that may close in supermarkets in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which are not included in these data.
Commenting on the analysis, Janet Morrison, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), said that if this large number of closures goes ahead, “patients will find it harder to get their medicines and the informal healthcare advice they have been relying on”.
“Pharmacies are no longer economically sustainable and there is a real risk that other pharmacies would not be able to pick up increased demand should pharmacies start to suddenly close, particularly if this happens in clusters,” she said.
“The pharmacy network is in such a fragile state that we could soon see a domino effect. As patients of one wave of closures find themselves being directed to alternative pharmacies for access to medicines and pharmaceutical services, the pressures on those refuge pharmacies will increase, thereby putting them at higher risk of closure.”
In September 2022, the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) published a report warning that, without additional government funding, thousands of pharmacies are at risk of closure in the coming years.
However, one of the report’s authors David Taylor, emeritus professor of pharmaceutical and public health policy at University College London, said the potential supermarket pharmacy closures are not “a huge bellwether, but at the same time they emphasise this is a sector that hasn’t seen returns”.
He added that with around 1 billion prescriptions dispensed monthly in England, displacing 1 million means “you’re talking about 0.1% of prescriptions by volume”.
But Gareth Jones, director of corporate affairs at the NPA, noted that “the redistribution of workload implied by the LloydsPharmacy closures will not affect all pharmacies equally”.
“Pharmacies that are in near proximity to the closed branches will probably pick up more prescriptions and also face greater demand for time-consuming, unfunded, healthcare advice. For some, this will be a considerable challenge, given existing pressures.”
In a letter sent to prime minister Rishi Sunak on 16 January 2023, representatives from across community pharmacy warned of more “unprecedented and unplanned closures” without further government funding, adding that many contractors “believe their businesses will not survive 2023”.
Commenting on The Pharmaceutical Journal‘s analysis, a spokesperson for the NHS said it would “work with government and local pharmacies over the next few months to minimise disruption to patients so that people can continue to access the medicines and advice they need”.
“A dedicated search facility on the NHS website and on the NHS app can also help people find, and easily switch to, another pharmacy that is convenient to them,” they added.