Community pharmacies are currently facing a worrying mix of funding, workforce, and workload pressures
The Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) has highlighted a worrying trend of increasing numbers of pharmacy closures in England, which is disproportionately affecting the most deprived communities in the country.
With 338 more pharmacies closed this year, an average of eight pharmacies closed per week, there has been a net loss of 1,008 pharmacies in England since 2015, the CCA said.
Between 2015 and June 2023, maximum number of pharmacies were closed in the 20 per cent most deprived neighbourhoods of the country, with 37.5 per cent of the total closures occurring in Indices of Multiple Deprivation deciles 1 and 2.
The association has raised concern that “permanent closures will undermine healthcare accessibility in deprived areas, where access tends to be more limited despite greater need.”
Malcolm Harrison, Chief Executive of the Company Chemists’ Association, highlighted “a toxic mix of funding, workforce, and workload pressures” that are restricting pharmacies from delivering what the government wants them to deliver.
He said: “Pharmacies are delivering many more services and dispensing more and more medicines for an ever-shrinking pot of money. This is simply unsustainable.
“Without immediate action to protect the community pharmacy network, patients in deprived neighbourhoods risk being left high and dry.
“The government must work with us to reshape what community pharmacies do and reduce our workload so patients can continue to access the face-to-face care they need from pharmacies,” he added.
Pharmacies are expected to do more, without immediate funding, the CCA insisted, while pointing out that “there is currently an annual funding blackhole of more than £67,0004 per pharmacy in England.”
The funding blackhole is also cited as a contributing factor for the pharmacy closures trend.
GP recruitment of pharmacists via the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS) is believed to have further worsen the already precarious workforce crisis in community pharmacy.
The CCA estimated that it has led to almost 4,000 community pharmacists leaving the sector to work in primary care networks or general practice. More than 5,200 full-time employee pharmacists are now working in primary care networks, it revealed.
Adding to the woes, the workload demand across the community pharmacy network increased by 1.7 million hours between 2017-2018 and 2022-23.
Earlier this year, the government and the NHS have pledged to invest £645m in community pharmacies, but the investment has not started “flowing into pharmacies yet”, the CCA added.
The associated has urged the government to “revisit pharmacies’ core funding to reverse the trend of closures” and provide people in deprived neighbourhoods “the opportunity to receive essential care.”