The UK’s community pharmacies are in bad shape. New research from the London Medical Laboratory estimates around 100 pharmacies could close this year across the UK.
That follows on from a net loss of 236 during 2020/21. The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) says that over 639 local pharmacies have been lost in England alone since 2016.
Overall, 1 in 18 pharmacies in England have shut since 2016, but in the worst-hit places more than a fifth have gone. This has left areas of the UK without any chemists where people struggle to access vital services.
Now a leading UK testing expert says the cure for ailing pharmacies could lie in significantly expanding their range of medical services and products, to capitalise on our healthier lifestyles and wellness routines.
The leading testing expert, Dr Quinton Fivelman PhD, Chief Scientific Officer at London Medical Laboratory, said, ‘Last year, England alone saw a net loss of 93 community pharmacies. Community pharmacies are a literal lifeline for many people. The role they play in their communities and their importance during the Covid pandemic cannot be overstated. However, the way they are funded by the Government means many community pharmacies are in peril.
‘Our latest research shows that around 100 more pharmacies across the UK are likely to close this year. These range from small neighbourhood chemists to pharmacy services inside Boots stores and supermarkets.
A report by Ernst and Young has found that 64%-85% of community pharmacies in England are heading for a financial deficit under current funding arrangements. Smaller community pharmacies are likely to be hardest hit. “The Telegraph” reports three-quarters of family-owned pharmacies could soon close permanently.
‘Typically, local pharmacies in England generate almost 90% of their income from their NHS contracts and the remaining 10% from counter sales of non-prescription medicines and other items, from reading glasses to perfumes. However, in recent years, supermarkets and e-commerce have gobbled up many of these non-NHS sales.
‘At the same time, the total national funding for community pharmacies was reduced in 2016/17 and has remained relatively unchanged since. This is very disappointing, and it is small wonder so many local pharmacies are struggling.
‘Community pharmacy funding is complex but can be loosely broken down into fees for the services pharmacies perform and the profit they are allowed to keep after shopping around for the best prices for drugs.
‘However, here “indie” chemists and small multiples are at a huge disadvantage compared to large chains. Family-owned businesses cannot afford to purchase the quantities needed to achieve significant savings on medications through bulk buying.
‘Pharmacy contractors also receive a Single Activity Fee (SAF) for every item dispensed, including medicines and appliances. This fee is currently 127p per item. As any self-respecting shopkeeper will tell you, that represents a significant amount of time and labour for a modest income.
‘There has been some recognition of the plight of community pharmacies with the recent introduction of initiatives such as Transitional Payments. These help to finance their work with local healthcare systems and train staff to support new services.
‘For example, stores selling up to 2,500 prescription items a month receive an extra £60 for dispensing the items and the same amount for providing a service (cut from £66 last year). It’s hardly generous. Other programs, such as funding for the new Smoking Cessation Service, also bring in some revenue.
However, community pharmacies clearly need to think beyond traditional prescription services and embrace the move towards personal fitness and wellbeing. Here in the UK, the health and wellness industry is worth £19.5bn and growing at a rate of 10% annually.
‘For example, there has been a significant rise in patient awareness regarding self-testing. Millennials have become the “wellness generation”. Together with an increasing number of elderly people, they are requesting better access to testing.
‘The concept of self-testing using a lateral flow test (LFT) for Covid or a finger-prick test for antibodies has become very common. People have become accustomed to testing themselves at home or at a pharmacy.
‘Effective alternatives, such as regular blood testing, helped people to avoid GP surgeries at the height of the pandemic. They realised how effective and reassuring regular blood tests can be. Today, companies such as London Medical Laboratory (the UK’s leading omni-channel blood testing, diagnostic and health check business) are constantly introducing new tests to give people a comprehensive picture of their health. We provide phlebotomy training to all of our partner pharmacy sites across the UK.
‘Pharmacies will also help the NHS by increasing their range of testing services. For example, the UK has over a million people walking around with undiagnosed diabetes. Many of us also have unsuspected high cholesterol and high blood pressure. These three preventable issues alone cost the NHS millions a year. If everyone had regular blood tests, it would be better for the country’s health and save the NHS money in the long term.
‘Our new generation, off-the-shelf, home blood tests are highly accurate, quick and simple to carry out. They take only around five minutes, with results usually emailed the next day.’