The majority of independent pharmacy owners made a net loss dispensing medicines for the NHS during 2022, with nine in ten (92%) seeing a dispensing loss for at least one month of the year.

And nearly half (48%) said that they had lost money through dispensing for six months or more, according to a National Pharmacy Association (NPA) survey carried out online in February 2022.

When all activities within the pharmacy business were included, almost all (93%) of the 222 contractors and senior managers who responded said that they had experienced at least one month of negative cashflow, while nearly half (45%) said that their overall outgoings had exceeded overall income in at least six months of the year.

Many had taken measures to limit costs during this period. One third (33%) said that they had reduced their opening hours while over half (59%) had reduced staffing.

Over a third (38%) had reduced or stopped some NHS services, while over half (59%) had stopped or reduced previously free services like home deliveries or introduced charges for these services.

Many had borrowed money to maintain operations, with 40% saying that they had increased bank borrowing in 2022 and 20% had asked families for financial assistance.

NPA chair Andrew Lane described the results of the survey as ‘bleak’.

He said: ‘This survey shows the bleak financial reality facing many independent pharmacies after years of underfunding.

‘Dispensing at a loss and negative cashflow is clearly unsustainable. This funding crisis must be addressed urgently or pharmacies will fall into a spiral of declining services and ultimately widespread closures.

‘Tragically, the story is playing out very much in line with independent research commissioned by the NPA last year, which warned of a nationwide financial emergency in our sector.

Figures from the NHS Business Service Authority show that community pharmacies in England are dispensing more prescription items and delivering more clinical services despite a fall in the number of contractors, figures have shown.

But a record number of drug shortages and price concessions, amid other pressures, has meant pharmacists are dispensing at a loss.

Yesterday Mr Lane said that the NHS’ vision for community pharmacy to deliver more clinical services ‘can’t be done running on empty.'

And analysis by the Company Chemists’ Association last month suggested that community pharmacy is experiencing an annual shortfall in funding of over £750m, leading to primary care closures disproportionately affecting deprived areas.