Community pharmacy organisations have called on the government and NHS England to take action to support the sector, after LloydsPharmacy announced yesterday that all of its 237 branches inside Sainsbury’s stores will close.

The National Pharmacy Association's (NPA) chief executive Mark Lyonette warned that the industry is in a ‘downward spiral’ unless the government and NHS England do something ‘before it’s too late for the thousands of independent pharmacies at the cliff-edge’.

LloydsPharmacy said it is withdrawing all its 237 pharmacies inside Sainsbury’s stores this year after carrying out a ‘strategic review’ of its operations in response to ‘changing market conditions’.

Responding to the news, Mr Lyonette said: ‘This is further evidence that the financials no longer stack up for community pharmacy and NHS funding is totally inadequate.

‘When the second largest pharmacy company in the UK has to scale down like this, with all the resources at its disposal, what hope is there for the long-term viability of the smaller pharmacies we represent, which are grimly hanging on?’

An NPA-commissioned report into the impact of inflation and chronic underfunding, published in September 2022, warned of the threat of thousands of community pharmacy closures, and described the sector’s financial position as a ‘national emergency’.

Mr Lyonette said: ‘Now we see the downward spiral playing out in reality – not just Lloyds but many others who are taking difficult decisions about staffing, opening hours, reduced services and closures.

‘What will it take to get the government and NHS England to act, before it’s too late for the thousands of independent pharmacies at the cliff-edge?’

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said the closure of LloydsPharmacy in Sainsbury’s branches means there has been 1,000 pharmacy closures since 2015.

Posting on Twitter, she said the news ‘shows the huge financial burden [the] pharmacy sector is under’.

She added: ‘If big organisations like Lloyds are struggling to make pharmacies pay, where does that leave the rest of us?

‘Pharmacy needs urgent funding to stop further closures leaving patients without accessible healthcare.’

Dr Hannbeck told The Pharmacist that ‘enough is enough’. She added: ‘This irresponsible and prejudiced policy toward community pharmacy by those in position of power needs to stop before it causes serious damage to our healthcare system and to patient care.’

The PDA Union, the recognised trade union at LloydsPharmacy, is supporting its members following the announcement.

Mark Pitt, assistant general secretary of the PDA, said the situation is ‘very different’ to the many other LloydsPharmacy disposals, for which there has always been a buyer.

‘Therefore, patients and communities have seen no reduction in availability, the pharmacy network has not lost capacity and there were no job losses,’ he said.

He added: ‘This situation is different and means significant reductions in access to pharmacy for patients and we expect those who represent communities to be concerned about the loss of a key part of their local NHS service.

‘Forward-thinking governments around the UK are seeking to make greater use of pharmacies as the most accessible contact point to the NHS, to reduce pressure on other parts of the healthcare system, so there should be greater community pharmacy capacity, not less.’

The PDA said it is aware of ‘intensive speculation in pharmacy circles’ that further closures may follow.

It is calling on the government to ‘publicly confirm what steps they are taking to ensure pharmacies that may be closed or sold are being adequately staffed, stocked and maintained in the meantime’.

A statement from the PDA said: ‘As politicians talk about asking community pharmacy to take on more of the NHS workload, the government need to clarify what is being done to ensure the overall sector has the capacity to do so. Capacity lost in supermarkets needs to be gained on the high street or elsewhere in the community.’

It added: ‘The NHS is also responsible for the funding level of the contract with community pharmacy operators, and in England under the previous chief pharmaceutical officer, it chose to underfund the contract, causing predictable pressure on its viability, which is almost certain to be a factor in any corporation’s decision to dispose of pharmacies.’

The PDA comments come following the launch of The Save Our Pharmacy campaign by four leading national pharmacy bodies on January 18, which calls for fair NHS funding for pharmacies in England.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said: ‘Community pharmacies play a vital role in our healthcare system and we back them with £2.6 billion a year. On top of this, we have announced a further £100 million investment in the sector to help support services.

‘We are carefully monitoring access to pharmaceutical services. About 80 per cent of people live within 20 minutes of a community pharmacy and there remains twice as many pharmacies in deprived areas compared to less deprived areas.’