Scores of local pharmacies close in England: 160 shut in two years amid plans to expand role of pharmacists

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Scores of local pharmacies close in England with many fearing they are being taken advantage of as they continue to offer more services despite funding cuts

Local pharmacies are set to close across England, despite the number of pharmacies falling by 160 in the last two years. The news comes as many pharmacists fear they are being taken advantage of as they are expected to offer more services despite funding cuts.

There are currently 11,026 community chemists according to data from NHS Business Services Authority. This is the lowest number since 2015, with rising operational costs, staff shortages and reduced government financial support all being blamed.

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The fall in the number of pharmacies comes despite rising patient demand. It also comes in spite of plans for pharmacists to provide more services to east GP pressure.

Many more local businesses could close without help, pharmacists warn. While online services are available, many rely on a local chemist for advice or to pick up prescriptions.

A primary care access plan to improve and extend the availability of consultations by GPs will be published on Tuesday by the government. Another £240 million has been announced by Ministers for practices to replace old phones with modern call systems and online tools.

It is hoped this will make it easier for patients to get in contact when they need it. Another part of the primary care plan is to include an expanded role for pharmacists – however, there are feasibility concerns.

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Although real-term funding has fallen, pharmacists are expected to offer more services – leaving many feeling taken for granted. A 30% cut in government funding is estimated over the last seven years, after taking inflation into account.

Pharmacist fears

Speaking to the BBC, Sanjeev Panesar, who owns Pan Pharmacy in Birmingham, said he fears services might have to be cut back and staff numbers may have to be reviewed. He has said the situation faced by pharmacists are in “serious jeopardy” and the business has had its “worst ever” year.

The business was set up by his parents and has just reached its 40th anniversary. Mr Panesar said: "Things are in serious jeopardy. It's our worst year ever, where we've made a loss. We have to make some really tough calls and decisions now.”

Mr Panesar has called for political leaders, including Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, whose mother ran a pharmacy, to visit pharmacies. He wants them to see first-hand the pressures faced by staff to meet the demands.

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He said: "I'd love him to come and see what we do, how patients feel about what we offer and actually, that this is serious, and that the sector is crumbling, and is going to fall down like a stack of dominoes, if there's no intervention urgently."

New plans for pharmacies

Chief executive of Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee Janet Morrison has said she hopes the new plan will address long-standing problems. She said: "What everyone learnt during the pandemic was that one of the two places that will stay open was the pharmacy. 

“Lots more people come in for advice and support that we're not paid to provide. What we've been saying to ministers is we're part of the solution because we can provide access."

According to the Department of Health and Social Care, an extra £100 million was invested in the sector in September 2022.. A spokesperson said: “We are supporting pharmacies to provide a range of clinical services and we are increasing the services pharmacists - who are degree-qualified medical health professionals - can provide to their community, including managing oral contraception.”

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