Closures in this financial year (2020/2021) have resulted in the lowest number of operating community pharmacies in England since 2015/2016, figures from the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) have revealed.
According to NHS data, published yesterday (28 October), there were 11,600 active community pharmacies and 112 active appliance contractors during 2020/2021.
In total, 236 new pharmacies opened this year, while 451 closed — giving a net decrease of 166 pharmacies at the end of the financial year.
This is in stark contrast to 2015/16, which saw the highest number of active pharmacies (11,949) in the past five years. In that year more community pharmacies opened (252) than closed (248).
Contractors have struggled financially this year due to additional pressures, costs and workload during the Covid pandemic.
Advance funding of £370m was given to the pharmacy sector in England between April and July 2020, as to support pharmacies with the cash flow challenges.
Community pharmacies are currently having to pay back the £370m to the Government, and many contractors have previously told The Pharmacist they were concerned they would struggle to cover their ongoing costs.
Analysis commissioned by the National Pharmacy Association and published in November 2020 found the sector was underfunded by £497m – with 72% of pharmacies forecast to be loss-making within four years. It is estimated that the average pharmacy will be losing £43k a year by 2024.
The report’s authors predicted that three-quarters of independent pharmacies in England could be forced to close by 2024 if current contractual arrangements remain unchanged.
The NHSBSA report, covering the financial years between April 2015 and March 2021, also showed a slight decrease in the number of items dispensed by community pharmacies this year.
According to the data, 1.03 billion prescription items were dispensed by community pharmacies and appliance contractors, a 1.79% decrease from the number of items dispensed in 2019/20, and a 2.35% increase in items dispensed since 2015/16.