Pharmacists remain optimistic about the future of the sector despite the threat of swingeing cuts from the Department of Health (DH), data published in a new report reveals.

Short-term confidence in the industry has risen significantly as the national economy grows, according to the latest Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking Healthcare Confidence Index.

The change has been attributed to a settled period in the industry and increased integrated working opportunities.

However researchers found rising running costs have resulted in the long-term sector confidence falling.

The index canvasses GPs, dentists and pharmacists on their outlook for the next one to five years to provide an insight into their opinions and levels of confidence.

Ian Crompton, head of healthcare SME banking at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: "Pharmacists have enjoyed a huge surge in confidence over the past twelve months, with more than half seeing NHS and other healthcare reforms as real and meaningful opportunities.

“On the back of this, many are planning to expand their business, and looking ahead they expect they will be working in a more integrated way with GP practices.”

Results printed in the Index attribute the upturn in confidence to the increased opportunities to work with GPs and the recognition given by the Department of Health of the valuable role pharmacists play in the healthcare sector.

Crompton added: “The results of the DH consultation on the future of community pharmacy is also likely to be significant in shaping the sector confidence over the next few years.”

More than three quarters of pharmacists surveyed said they expect more combined working with GP practices in the next five years, and over half see the reforms to primary care as an opportunity for their business.

Almost four fifths are looking to grow, either where they are currently based or by purchasing additional units elsewhere, and nearly three quarters of the pharmacists surveyed said they are expecting an increase in profits over the next five years.

This optimism is reflected by an increase in the number of pharmacists who still intend to be working in the sector in ten years’ time.

In the 2015 Index, 34 per cent of pharmacists said they planned to stay in the industry, but this has grown over the past year to 54 per cent.

Hiten Rawal, CEO at Wellbrooke Products Limited and Index contributor, said: “Sector growth is being propelled by a large shift towards pharmacists expanding their business at their current location, and there is an expectation that the payment model will tip towards services and away from the tradition of simply dispensing medicines.

“Pharmacy faces challenges such as the introduction of the Living Wage and mandatory pension contributions, and overall running costs are only going to increase. The outlook is fairly positive, but there is some uncertainty as to whether this can be sustained long-term.”