Seven out of 10 pharmacists said their OTC sales and script volumes had increased as a result of Covid-19.

Pharmacists are confident that they can use a surge in demand for their services likely linked to the pandemic to boost growth in 2021, a survey has revealed.

Lloyds Bank Healthcare Confidence Index, launched today (Dec 10), showed overall confidence reached a record high for the sector.

Short-term confidence among pharmacists increased to +27 compared to +14 in January 2020, while the long-term confidence of the sector rose to -34, from -41. It makes for a composite reading of -4, the highest in the history of the Index.

 OTC demand fuels short-term optimism

The short-term outlook has been buoyed by an increase in over counter sales and script volumes during the pandemic. Seven out of 10 (71pc) said that over the counter sales and script volumes had increased as a result of Covid-19.

Six out of 10 (61pc) pharmacists said they expect their business to record an increase in profits in the next 12 months as demand for their services grows. Just 14 per cent anticipate profits will drop over the same period.

Longer-term challenges remain

While the longer-term outlook has also brightened, it remains in negative territory and pharmacists are braced for pressure further down the line.

Online pharmacies and the rise some anticipate in the cost of drugs and medicines following the end of the UK’s transition period to leave the EU are both anticipated to threaten profits in coming years.

A total of 64 per cent responded to say they expected financial pressures on their practice to increase over the next five years, compared to 14 per cent who anticipated it would reduce.

Two-thirds (66 pc) said that internet pharmacies are a threat to their business or anticipate they will be within the next five years.

The survey preceded Amazon’s move into the online pharmacy space in the US, which was announced in November and is expected to pre-empt a UK launch.

Embracing sustainability

Despite longer-term headwinds, pharmacists are committed to improving the sustainability of their businesses. More than half (55 pc) said it was important that they consider the energy efficiency of their premises and 65 per cent have either already invested in efficiency improvements or plan to do so within the next two years.

The sector also remains an attractive one to work in.

Just 18 per cent of established pharmacists plan to retire in the next five years and 61 per cent would encourage friends and family to follow in their footsteps and consider a career in pharmacy.

“In what has been an extremely tough year for the healthcare sector given its role on the frontline tackling Covid-19, it’s heartening to see the optimism for the future coming from pharmacists,” said Martyn Kendrick, UK head of healthcare banking services at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking.

“While many are realistic about the long-term challenges – such as those presented by the growth in online pharmacies – pharmacists have shown real agility, innovation and resilience during the pandemic. This appears to have paid dividends in the immediate term.

“We’re committed to supporting pharmacy businesses every step of the way as they continue to provide Britain with essential services for years to come.”

Sanjay Patel, director at Innovate Pharma Services, said: “Pharmacists have stepped up to continue delivering vital services to the public during the coronavirus pandemic, often under huge pressure. Perhaps the most striking outcome from the research is pharmacists’ entrepreneurial outlook, and there are opportunities in the sector.

“While the number of pharmacies in the UK will reduce, the population is both increasing and ageing, so the pharmacies that do survive will be dispensing higher volumes and be more profitable. Those pharmacists that are agile and embrace change and new technology still have great opportunities ahead of them.”

Lloyds Bank Healthcare Confidence Index has run annually for the past 11 years. Following an unprecedented year, Lloyds Bank ran its poll for a second time during 2020 to gauge the impact of Covid-19 on primary healthcare professionals. The previous survey took place in January.

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