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Debt soars as pharmacies fight closure: Industry voices concern over pharmacy minister’s statements

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While official statements paint a picture of a resilient pharmacy sector, industry stakeholders raise concerns about the disconnect between rhetoric and reality

Pharmacy Minister Dame Andrea Leadsom has sparked controversy with her recent remarks during the final session of the Health and Social Care Committee’s (HHSC) Pharmacy Inquiry on Monday.

Despite acknowledging the closure of nearly 400 pharmacies since the beginning of the 2023/24 financial year, Dame Andrea asserted that the community pharmacy sector remains robust, describing it as a “thriving market.”

At the session she attributed the changing landscape to the natural evolution of the market and assured that “access to pharmacy services remains unaffected”, suggesting patients turn to online distance selling pharmacies if faced with closures or temporary inconveniences.

Highlighting the government’s stance on pharmacy closures, she stressed that “pharmacies operate as private businesses”, with the government refraining from intervening in closure decisions.

Instead, local councils and integrated care boards are tasked with assessing pharmaceutical needs and facilitating the opening of new pharmacies.

Dr. Amanda Doyle from NHS England echoed Dame Andrea’s sentiments, acknowledging a shift in the sector’s composition with a decline in brick-and-mortar pharmacies.

However, she addressed a simultaneous rise in distance selling pharmacies and stressed “to increase the role of community pharmacy as a first line provider of clinical services to the community.”

However, industry figures have criticised the comments, labelling them as “out of touch with the reality faced by pharmacies” across England.

Leyla Hannbeck, CEO of Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMP), expressed concern over the crisis gripping the sector, citing closures, overwork, and severe underfunding.

She emphasised that “independent pharmacies primarily rely on NHS activities and are crucial healthcare providers, especially in deprived areas”.

Ian Strachan, Owner of Strachan’s Pharmacy Group, echoed these sentiments, pointing to “compelling evidence of pharmacies accumulating debt”.

He criticised the minister’s apparent indifference towards “mounting debt and closures”, attributing the profession’s struggles to their dedication to patient care.

Despite assertions from government officials regarding the sector’s resilience, industry insiders argue that the reality paints a bleaker picture.

With closures on the rise and financial pressures mounting, the future of community pharmacies remains uncertain, prompting calls for urgent intervention to safeguard vital healthcare services.

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