The average pharmacy makes an overall loss of £45,000 each year, an online meeting held to draw attention to the state of ‘crisis’ in community pharmacy has heard.

Michael Niblock, finance director of Pharmacy Care Plus, shared the figures at a webinar organised by the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) on Tuesday evening.

Ongoing funding challenges and workforce pressures were also flagged during the webinar, while pharmacist and MP Taiwo Owatemi urged those across the sector to contact their MPs about their concerns.

During the meeting, Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of AIMp, said community pharmacy was ‘currently on a life support’ and that without a commitment to adequately fund the sector, ‘the headwinds will only strengthen and take us further off course’.

She said that with rising costs and workforce pressures, ‘pharmacy is slowly but decisively being squeezed from all sides’ and was ‘haemorrhaging money’.

‘It is only a matter of time before we can no longer sustain the pressures without injection of liquidity,’ Dr Hannbeck added.

While it was ‘disappointing that cash flow has been forced to overshadow everything else that is good and possible from our sector’, she said that without liquidity, pharmacies would end up in debt.

However, with investment ‘and the headroom to plan and prepare’, Dr Hannbeck said that conversations around pharmacy’s role in addressing challenges in primary care ‘could be so different’.

Also during the event, Mr Niblock from the Pharmacy Care Plus group, an AIMp member, shared an example of the annual profit and loss of an average pharmacy, based on his more than 10 years of experience in the sector.

He estimated that the average turnover for a community pharmacy was around £750,000, with the gross margin making up 28%. However, he said that staff costs made up around 24% of the turnover of the average pharmacy.

He therefore claimed the average pharmacy made an overall loss of £45,000 every year.

Speaking to The Pharmacist following the webinar, he said ‘almost all the gross margin that we’re making is being eroded’ by staff costs such as minimum wage and rising locum rates.

He added that since 2015/16, the minimum wage had increased by 44%, while inflation had increased by 30% since April 2014.

And while the NHS budget had increased by 33% since 2014, the community pharmacy budget had remained at a flat rate of £2.592bn since 2017. Had the pharmacy budget kept pace with the NHS budget, the pharmacy budget would be £3.696bn each year – £1.1bn more than it is currently, he suggested.

However, ‘because we’ve had no account of inflation in our budget, inflation is rampant now’, he said.

Along with escalating locum rates, due to wage increases for support staff it was ‘impossible’ now for pharmacy owners to maintain the gap in salaries between highest and lowest skilled members of staff.

‘That gap is getting smaller, and what we’ll see is a skill drain in pharmacy’, particularly among pharmacy technicians, he said.

‘We’re all feeling the pain’, he added, claiming that all pleas to the government ‘seem to fall on deaf ears’.

He added that ‘people need to keep continually writing to their MPs’.

‘If that’s the way the sector has to go to get more funding then absolutely [people] need to keep writing to their MPs’, he told The Pharmacist.

Meanwhile, chair of the All-Party Pharmacy Group (APPG) Taiwo Owatemi shared a video which was played during the webinar encouraging pharmacists to ‘make as much noise as possible’.

‘Truthfully, that is the only way that you’re able to grab MPs attention,’ she said.

Ms Owatemi described the sector as a ‘sleeping giant’ which, if properly funded, could release over 42 million GP appointments and reduce hospital readmissions by 65K annually, she suggested.

She urged webinar attendees to write to or email their MP to make it clear that pharmacists ‘are more than happy to take on more responsibility under a Pharmacy First scheme’ that would also help save the government ‘a substantial amount of money’.

She also said that there was a ‘serious opportunity’ to ‘better utilise the pharmacy workforce’ to ‘optimise workload across primary care’.

The government should set out a plan to ensure that all pharmacists have access to training, supervision and protected learning time, along with clear structures for professional development into advanced and consultant level practice to make the sector attractive to the next generation of community pharmacists, added Ms Owatemi.

AIMp provided template letters for pharmacy teams and their patients to contact their MPs, and stressed that that ‘the next two weeks are critical’ to ensure that community pharmacy gets a fair deal in the upcoming Primary Care Recovery Plan.

The sector needs ‘more MPs to speak up about pharmacy urgently’ in parliament and at Prime Minister’s Question Times (PMQs), AIMp added.

Yesterday at PMQs the Prime Minister was pressed to take ‘urgent action’ to prevent more pharmacy closures and to commission an appropriately funded Pharmacy First service, in a question from Labour MP and APPG member George Howarth.