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Plans for pharmacies to deliver more NHS care at risk as hundreds close, MPs are warned

  • This financial year alone, an average of eight pharmacies have closed each week 

Plans for pharmacies to deliver more NHS care are at risk amid widespread closures, MPs are warned today.

The Government and NHS England want pharmacies to ease the pressure on GPs by conducting more health checks and prescribing some drugs themselves.

But the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA), the trade organisation for chains such as Boots and Superdrug, said a lack of funding and staff could scupper the move.

Chief executive Malcolm Harrison will today tell MPs on the Commons health and social care committee that there has been a net loss of 1,008 pharmacies in England since 2015.

This financial year alone, an average of eight pharmacies have closed each week and others are struggling to survive, the CCA’s analysis reveals.

The Government and NHS England want pharmacies to ease the pressure on GPs by conducting more health checks and prescribing some drugs themselves (file image)

The Government and NHS England want pharmacies to ease the pressure on GPs by conducting more health checks and prescribing some drugs themselves (file image)

Deprived areas are most dependent on pharmacies but have been hardest hit by the closures, with 37.5 per cent of those shutting their doors between 2015 and June 2023 located in the poorest 20 per cent of the country.

The NHS will launch a Pharmacy First scheme early next year, which would see patients directed to chemists for care in the hope of freeing up ten million GP appointments.

Pharmacists would be able to give advice and NHS-funded treatment for seven common conditions – sinusitis, sore throat, middle ear infections, infected insect bite, impetigo, shingles and uncomplicated urinary tract infections in women.

The NHS also announced last week that millions of women would be able to get the contraceptive pill from a pharmacist without seeing a GP from next month. 

However, the CCA said the NHS pharmacy budget has been cut in real terms since 2015-16, leaving each pharmacy £67,000 worse off every year.

This limits their ability to hire staff and expand their service, it adds.

Meanwhile, almost 4,000 community pharmacists have quit their jobs to take up roles in GP surgeries, where they are used to do medicine checks for patients on a cocktail of drugs.

Mr Harrison told the Mail: ‘A toxic mix of funding, workforce and workload pressures are restricting pharmacies from delivering what the Government wants them to deliver. 

‘Pharmacies are delivering many more services and dispensing more medicines for an ever-shrinking pot of money. This is simply unsustainable.’

Some 89.2 per cent of the population is estimated to live less than a 20-minute walk from a pharmacy. But the CCA fears patients are less likely to seek care if they have to travel further to be seen.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: ‘Community pharmacies play a vital role in our healthcare system, backed by £2.6billion a year.

‘We have announced £645million in funding to support community pharmacies to supply prescription-only medicines for seven common conditions, without the patient needing need to see a GP.’

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