Having undertaken a detailed economic analysis of the sector’s finances, EY concluded that, without intervention from NHS England, many pharmacies will be unable to survive – limiting access to health services in many areas including remote rural communities (Photo: iStock).

Community pharmacies in England need urgent government intervention to avert closures and potential job losses in the near future amid growing deficits and Covid-19 pandemic, a new report has warned.

Released today (September 4) at an online event hosted by the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), the report by EY has urged the policy makers to put in place safeguards against the English community pharmacy network collapsing as an unintended consequence of short-term cost savings.

EY was commissioned by the NPA to ‘review on the impacts of current funding, policy and economic environment on independent pharmacy in England’ and the pharmacy body will deliberate on the findings of report in its meeting next week.

Commenting on the hurdles being faced by the pharmacies, Caroline Williams, a pharmacy owner, said: “Funding cuts and Covid-19 pandemic have negatively impacted the pharmacies and as a result many pharmacies under the threat of closures.

“We, the pharmacy teams are under tremendous pressure following increased workload due to the pandemic and inflated prices. The virus has hit the ability of the pharmacies to get necessary income to survive as the entire business depends upon cash flows and the logic of more money for more business.”

Sharing his views in the webinar, David Taylor of UCL, Professor Emeritus of Pharmaceutical and Public Health Policy, underlined the role of pharmacies in delivering necessary services to the vulnerable people during the pandemic adding that “lack of funding will result in thousands of closures which attract harsh condition for the pharmacies by 2024.”

The webinar suggested that continued underfunding is a barrier to meeting NHS England’s strategic aim of delivering more clinical services from community pharmacy, to free up capacity elsewhere in the healthcare system.

Three-quarters of pharmacies in England could close by 2024: EY report

The EY review found that nearly 75 per cent of family-owned pharmacies in England could be forced to shut their doors by 2024 due to growing deficits and lack of new funding.

It added that the pharmacies are under-funded to the tune of £497 million with 72 per cent forecast to be loss-making within four years if the current contractual arrangements carry on unchanged.

The average pharmacy will be making an annual loss of £43,000 by 2024.

Concluding the report, EY noted that many pharmacies will be unable to survive without intervention from NHS England – limiting access to health services in many areas including remote rural communities.

Commenting on the review, Andrew Lane, NPA Chair, said: “This report from EY shows the precarious situation facing pharmacies up and down the country. Community pharmacies act as a vital lifeline in communities across the land – and there’s a very real threat they could close unless ministers act now.

“Health Secretary Matt Hancock describes community pharmacy as a critical part of the NHS family. He has also said that, if the Government asks pharmacies to offer more services, they need to be paid properly for those services. Those words urgently need to be backed by further investment to underpin viability, change and improvement in our sector.”

Earlier Hancock had told an online NPA conference that he is against widespread closures and wants more investment in pharmacy services.

Chair of the All-Party Pharmacy Group, Jackie Doyle-Price MP, said: “Pharmacies are at a crossroads – and must be given the funding they need to look after the nation’s health. The pandemic has highlighted what a pivotal role they played and continue to play in delivering frontline care when many doctor surgeries were closed. Going forward if the NHS is to deliver a truly 24-hour seven day a week service, then pharmacies must be at the forefront of that.”

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