The number of pharmacies in England has fallen by 160 in the last two years and it is warned that more are expected to close unless the Government provides “urgent” funding to the “struggling” sector.
There are currently just 11,026 community chemists – the lowest number since 2015 – according to a BBC analysis of data from the NHS Business Services Authority.
The decline has been blamed on staff shortages, rising operating costs and reduced financial support, which comes amid growing patient demand.
The warnings preceded today’s announcement of a major expansion of high street pharmacy services, alongside a £645m government investment.
Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said workforce challenges have led many pharmacies to close their doors “forever” since 2015, when the sector experienced a “major” cut in funding.
Difficult: many pharmacists are lost (file photo)
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today program yesterday: “We expect that this year many more will do the same unless the Government comes out and injects pharmacies with some liquidity and funding to keep the sector going.”
Ms Hannbeck said there is a £1.1bn funding gap each year, which has caused many pharmacies to operate at a loss and struggle to pay bills from medicines wholesalers.
“This has caused many pharmacies to suffer serious liquidity problems,” he added. “In order for pharmacists to stay afloat, something needs to be done urgently.”
Thorrun Govind, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of England, cited rising staffing, energy and drug costs as some of the problems facing the sector.
He told BBC One’s Breakfast program that pharmacies in England could and would like to do “a lot more”.
“When I work in the pharmacy, there are often times when I know what treatment is needed, but I can’t provide it because the system I work in prevents me from doing so,” Ms Govind told the BBC.
He added that greater funding for pharmacies would also improve staff retention (workers are currently at risk of “burnout”) and address health inequalities.
“Pharmacists are really accessible (about a 20 minute walk for most people) and staff tend to be from the communities they work in, so actually health inequalities are also addressed when we have pharmacies open “, he claimed.
He added that pharmacies could provide regular support to patients with chronic conditions and help people with common ailments (such as coughs, colds, flu and sore throats) to ease the burden on GPs.