Community pharmacies across England are facing a growing risk of collapse due to rising costs and significantly increased workload, a new study has found.

Two surveys by the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) have painted a ‘very worrying picture’ of the current operational environment for pharmacies and offers a ‘bleak outlook for the sector’s future’.

The research, which includes the responses of more than 900 pharmacy owners and over 2,000 pharmacy team members, found that nearly all (96%) of pharmacy owners are facing significantly higher costs than last year.

Increasing cost pressures meant 73% of pharmacy owners reported that they did not know how much longer the threats to their businesses could be managed and, concerningly, 16% do not believe they will ‘survive another year’. Just 7% of respondents considered their pharmacy business to be profitable.

‘These results make clear that the community pharmacy sector is at a tipping point with many businesses now at risk of collapse,’ said the PSNC.

Meanwhile, further results revealed 76% of pharmacy team members said their pharmacies were experiencing staff shortages. Worryingly, some 19% of pharmacy owners also said their pharmacy had been forced to close temporarily because of such shortages.

Almost half (48%) of the pharmacy team member respondents said they were understaffed due to insufficient funding, while more than a third (34%) were suffering labour shortages due to staff unavailability.

The research also showed a large number of pharmacies are struggling under the burden of increased workload. As many as 92% of pharmacy teams cited a significant rise in requests from patients unable to access general practice.

Wellbeing concerns were also raised by the surveys, with more than four fifths (81%) of pharmacy staff admitting they were struggling to cope due to workload pressures and 78% reporting their work was having a negative impact on their mental health.

On the financial front, 78% of pharmacy owners said they were extremely concerned about their business. Additionally, almost all the pharmacy owners surveyed (97%) reported significant increases in wholesaler and medicine supply issues. Some 71% of pharmacy teams reported problems sourcing medicines, while 84% of pharmacy owners said they had experienced aggression from patients due to medicine supply issues.

Janet Morrison, PSNC chief executive, said the survey results were ‘distressing’ and painted a ‘devastating picture of staff under unbearable pressures and businesses struggling to cope’.

Ms Morrison also emphasised the urgent need for government funding to combat the issues raised by the survey.

‘This year’s survey clearly shows that community pharmacies are buckling under growing cost and capacity pressures – the consequences should they be allowed to collapse are unthinkable,’ Ms Morrison said.

‘Funding is needed, without delay, to maintain patient access to the medicines and pharmacy services that they need.’

She reiterated that PSNC has been ‘pressing’ for a fully-funded national Pharmacy First service and believes ‘this is the best chance for getting significant additional funds into community pharmacies’, Ms Morrison added.

The two surveys, together known as the 2023 Pharmacy Pressures Survey, were launched at the end of January 2023. More than 900 pharmacy owners, between them representing more than 6,200 pharmacy premises, completed the first survey and more than 2,000 pharmacy team members completed the second.