Hallo Healthcare Group has sold all of its 1,054 high street and community pharmacies that operated under the LloydsPharmacy brand, the company has confirmed.

The move completes the withdrawal of the UK’s second largest pharmacy chain from the high street.

The divestment will see ‘99% of branches staying open in over 1,000 communities’, according to Hallo, ‘with pharmacies bought individually or in regional packages by independent pharmacy owners and local entrepreneurs’.

Hallo, which is owned by investment group Aurelius, said 6,500 branch workers had secured employment with new owners.

A spokesperson for Hallo Healthcare Group commented: ‘The main priority has always been to keep pharmacies open and central to their communities, whilst ensuring ongoing employment for colleagues.’

In January 2023, it was announced that LloydsPharmacy services would also be withdrawn from its 237 branches in Sainsbury’s stores.

The latest announcement follows the acquisition of online pharmacy LloydsDirect by Pharmacy2U in October 2023.

Hallo Healthcare Group has retained ownership of LloydsPharmacy Healthcare Services (trading as LP HCS Ltd), which serves patients in NHS hospitals, prisons, community health trusts and the private sector, as well as LloydsPharmacy Clinical Homecare and LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor.

The group also includes AAH, a distributor of pharmaceutical and healthcare products serving community pharmacies, hospitals and doctors.

The Hallo spokesperson said the group remains ‘fully committed to the UK healthcare sector’, adding: ‘Whilst it may have left the high street, the LloydsPharmacy brand name and heritage remains in specialist pharmacy, clinical and digital healthcare.’

Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association, said it was ‘very concerning’ that the owner of such a large organisation had chosen to exit the community pharmacy market, and that it should serve as a ‘wake-up call’ to the government and NHS.

‘Since 2015, core funding has been cut in real terms by 30% and there has been a net loss of more than 1,000 pharmacies,’ said Mr Harrison. ‘This calendar year alone, there has been a net loss of 299 pharmacies. All the while, workload associated with NHS services has risen inexorably.’

He added: ‘We recognise that the government and NHS have recently announced new money for the delivery of new care services in the Primary Care Recovery Plan, but this new money will be spent on the delivery of new care services – it will not address the underlying fragility in the market, nor will it be able to make up for almost a decade of underfunding.’

Mr Harrison also warned that access to medicines and other critical primary care services would ‘continue to deteriorate as more and more pharmacies close’.

Meanwhile, Paul Day, director of the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) union, described Hallo’s divestment of LloydsPharmacy branches as a ‘significant change’ in the sector.

However, he acknowledged that pharmacies remaining open – albeit under new ownership – maintained ‘vital access’ for patients and the wider community.

‘The PDA has worked with the company throughout the programme to avoid job losses and it should be noted that while the number of LloydsPharmacy branches has reduced, the other side of those transactions means that over 1,000 community pharmacy branches have been purchased by new owners, clearly demonstrating that operating a pharmacy can still be an attractive business proposition,’ Mr Day said.

The PDA also revealed that it had been involved in discussions to negotiate improved pay settlements for workers.

While redundancies have been avoided following the latest branch sale, the PDA is supporting workers in an ongoing dispute over redundancy pay for those who lost their jobs from LloydsPharmacy branch closures in Sainsbury’s stores earlier in the year.