Active dispensing contractors in England are at their lowest level since 2015/16, the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) has reported today.

In 2022/23 there were 11,414 active community pharmacies and 111 active appliance contractors, following a steady decrease from 11,949 in 2015/16.

Throughout the year, 388 pharmacies closed, while just 297 new pharmacies opened.

But while the number of pharmacies decreased, the volume of items dispensed by community pharmacies increased by 3.4% from 2021/22, with 1.08 billion prescription items dispensed by community pharmacies in 2022/23.

On average, each community pharmacy contractor dispensed 94,500 items during 2022/23 – an increase of 4.42% from 90,500 in 2021/22 and a 13.5% increase from the average of 83,300 in 2015/16.

Community pharmacy contractors also delivered 5.01 million flu vaccines in 2022/23, an increase of increase of 3.24% on the 4.85 million vaccines administered in 2021/22.

When divided by the 9,650 community pharmacies that delivered NHS flu vaccinations this averages 519 vaccines per pharmacy.

And the sector delivered 2,840,000 new medicines reviews (NMS) in 2022/23 compared to 2,100,000 in 2021/22 and 933,000 the previous year.

The cost of medicines has also been increasing year on year. In total, the NHS reimbursed the sector £9.7bn for prescription drugs and appliances – 7.5% more than in 2021/22.

Community pharmacies were also paid £1.4bn in single activity fees (SAFs) in 2022/23. This total was 2.36% more than the £1.37 billion paid to community pharmacies in SAFs in 2021/22, despite a decrease in the SAF from 129 pence to 127 pence in April 2022.

Nearly all (1.04 billion) or 96% of all items were dispensed via the Electronic Prescription Service (EPS), representing a small increase from the previous year.

A recent report by property adviser Christie & Co suggested that corporate operators suffered a net loss of 200 pharmacy stores between 2022 and 2023, while medium-sized pharmacy groups saw a decline of 68.

The number of independently run pharmacies increased by 167 over the year.