Rising Pharmacy Closures Jeopardize NHS Pharmacy First Scheme

Rising Pharmacy Closures Jeopardize NHS Pharmacy First Scheme
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London (Parliament News) – The NHS faces a crisis as a record number of pharmacies close, threatening its flagship Pharmacy First scheme. Industry leaders warn of the detrimental impact on patient access to essential medications.

The National Health Service (NHS) flagship scheme for pharmacies is “under threat” after a record number of chemists shut in the last year. There were 432 lost pharmacies in the 12 months finishing April 2024, which is on average more than one a day.

It indicates there are just 10,117 pharmacies left on England’s high streets, almost 2,000 more irregular than there were just eight years ago, at a time when the NHS is attempting to make chemists the front doorway to the health service. 

Industry leaders have expressed that the loss of community services will only make it more difficult for patients to get their medications and medicines, as well as drive the use of the NHS scheme called Pharmacy First.

Why Are Pharmacies Closing at Record Rates?

The pharmacy’s first endeavour was launched at the start of the year and gave extra abilities to chemists to treat seven common diseases such as ear infections and sore threats, including by prescribing medicines, in a bid to free up GP time.

The number of chemists performing in communities has fallen for eight straight years, with the number closing far outpacing those beginning amid mounting financial stress and challenges to keep businesses profitable.

The earlier high for chemist closures in a single year came during the pandemic when the number functioning fell by 213 between April 2020 and March 2021, but that statistic has been checked by almost double that having closed their doors permanently in the last 12 months.

Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the industry trade group Company Chemists’ Association (CCA), stated: “The delivery of vital NHS services such as Pharmacy First is under threat” unless action is taken.

Are Financial Cuts Leading to Pharmacy Shutdowns?

He told the Sunday Telegraph that “pharmacies persist to close at an unprecedented rate” because of the “untenable” real-terms funding cuts of 30 per cent since 2015 that have left the businesses “effectively subsidising the NHS”.

“Pharmacies cannot be expected to function at a loss,” he said. “Unless step is taken to halt the ever-increasing rate of pharmacy closures through extra funding, the delivery of vital NHS services such as Pharmacy First, is in danger. Without significant additional funding, fewer pharmacies will result in patients finding it even more difficult to access the medicines and clinical NHS care that they need,” he said.

What Challenges Do Distance-Selling Pharmacies Face?

There are also about 400 distance-selling pharmacies in the UK but these generally deliver postal services and are not within the community or capable of providing Pharmacy First services to patients. Analysis by the CCA has discovered that the closures are also disproportionately impacting the most constrained areas where access to community services like GP and dental practices are equally suffering.

More than one-third of the chemist closures have appeared in the 20 per cent most deprived areas of the country.

The trade association expressed that “distance decay” would mean people who have to voyage further from a pharmacy would be less likely to go, risking their health, and damaging the Pharmacy First scheme.

Mr Harrison stated these were the “communities who need immediate care access the most”.

“Pharmacy First is already releasing GP capacity and increasing patient access to primary care, especially for the most deprived communities. It would be a shame to see such an essential service put at risk,” he stated.

Massimiliano  Verde

Massimiliano Verde is a journalist at Parliament News, He is covering Society and Culture News. Boasting a Master's Degree in Political Science, stands as a prominent figure in the Italian cultural landscape. His presidency of the Neapolitan Academy, a scientifically and sociolinguistically renowned group, attests to his relentless dedication to safeguarding and promoting Neapolitan language and culture. His activism and profound expertise have propelled him into the role of interlocutor for UNESCO as part of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-2032), a prestigious acknowledgment highlighting the significance of his efforts in preserving the linguistic and cultural diversity of our planet.

Verde's fervent passion for the history and culture of Southern Italy has driven him to immerse himself in research, resulting in numerous essays and articles that delve into the peculiarities and beauties of the region. His commitment extends beyond academia, manifesting in ongoing dissemination activities aimed at acquainting the general public with the rich cultural heritage of the South. His endeavors transcend national boundaries, as evidenced by his participation in international conferences and collaboration with various foreign institutions, rendering him an ambassador of Southern culture on the global stage and fostering intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding.