And you thought getting an appointment was tough now! Pressure on GPs will increase amid ‘tsunami’ of pharmacy closures, industry bosses warn

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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The closure of hundreds of pharmacies has piled even more pressure on ailing GP practices, industry bosses warned today.

The Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMP) stated more than 400 community pharmacies across England closed between 2019 and 2023. This covers chains such as Boots.

And it warned of a ‘tsunami of further pharmacy closures across the country’ due to pressures in the system.

Demanding urgent an change, AIMP called on the Government to ‘properly fund’ its flagship Pharmacy First scheme.

Latest NHS Business Services Authority data published in October shows just 11,414 community pharmacies remained in the 2022/23 financial year. While the number of premises closing has consistently outpaced those opening, 2022/23 marked the lowest level recorded since 2015, laying bare the demise of primary care in England

Under the programme, patients with seven common conditions, including sinusitis, earache and impetigo, are encouraged to seek help from a chemist instead of their GP.

But the association claims the community pharmacy sector is already facing a £1.2bn shortfall in funding.

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of AIMP, said: ‘Our new analysis clearly shows that the loss of community pharmacies results in even more pressure piling up on hard-pressed GP surgeries.

‘Our community pharmacy teams are working heroically to help their patients, but the odds are stacked against them.

‘Every day I hear of pharmacists working excessive hours, losing money, falling into debt and being wracked by financial worries, uncertain if they will be able to keep the doors open. 

Under NHS plans to free up millions of appointments with family doctors, chemists can now dish out contraceptive pills to women. High street pharmacists also have powers to hand out prescriptions for common ailments, meaning patients battling minor illnesses can bypass their GP. Under wider plans, pharmacists are also offering more blood pressure checks to at-risk patients, with a commitment to deliver 2.5 million a year by spring 2025

Under NHS plans to free up millions of appointments with family doctors, chemists can now dish out contraceptive pills to women. High street pharmacists also have powers to hand out prescriptions for common ailments, meaning patients battling minor illnesses can bypass their GP. Under wider plans, pharmacists are also offering more blood pressure checks to at-risk patients, with a commitment to deliver 2.5 million a year by spring 2025

Boots have closed branches en masse in recent months, while LloydsPharmacy has shut its doors completely. PIctured: a Lloyds Pharmacy store in Bracknell, Berkshire

Boots have closed branches en masse in recent months, while LloydsPharmacy has shut its doors completely. PIctured: a Lloyds Pharmacy store in Bracknell, Berkshire

‘Some are having to turn to family and friends for financial help to keep going.

‘We want to be part of the solution to many of the issues facing the NHS, but chronic underfunding, medicine supply challenges and a dysfunctional reimbursement system have created the perfect storm of pharmacy closures.’

Dr Hannbeck added: ‘If we continue down this path, we risk creating a tsunami of further pharmacy closures across the country.’

She warned that ‘to realise the full potential of pharmacy and reduce pressure on GPs’ ministers need to spend billions more on the Pharmacy First initiative.

This would ‘address the rotten contract which is infecting our sector, leaving many pharmacists struggling as closures spread’, she said.

Dr Hannbeck added: ‘The consequences of a raft of further closures would be devastating. 

‘This is why today we are launching our new Fight4Pharmacies campaign to call on the Government to invest in community pharmacy and work with us to mend our broken contract.’

Large pharmacy chains Boots and LloydsPharmacy have closed branches en masse in recent months.

Last June, LloydsPharmacy closed all of its 237 branches located inside Sainsbury’s, and Boots announced the closure of 300 of its 2,200 stores across Britain.

Industry leaders say the closure of pharmacies mean patients are forced into making longer journeys for vital treatment or ‘miss out all together’.

The Department of Health and Social Care said it ‘does not recognise’ the AIMP’s funding shortfall figure.

A spokesperson added: ‘We have made up to £645million of new funding available to support the expansion of community pharmacy services, which comes on top of the £2billion pharmacies already receive per year.

‘Pharmacy First will free up an anticipated 10million GP appointments a year. It has been widely welcomed by the pharmacy sector and so far, 98 per cent of pharmacies have signed up to deliver it.

‘Four in five people live within a 20-minute walk of a pharmacy and there are twice as many pharmacies in deprived areas, making access to care quicker and more convenient.’

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