Corporate operators suffered a net loss of 200 pharmacy stores between 2022 and 2023, while medium-sized pharmacy groups saw a decline of 68, according to a report by property adviser Christie & Co.

However, the study also revealed that the number of independently run pharmacies increased by 167 over the year.

The sector’s composition is now weighted firmly in favour of regional multiples and independent contractors, according to Christie & Co, with its 2023 review of UK pharmacy reporting that companies operating more than 300 stores have reduced to around 35% of the overall market.

Geographically, there was a 0.3% reduction in the number of pharmacies in England, a 0.8% drop in Wales and a decrease of 0.2% in Northern Ireland, although Scotland bucked the trend with a 0.2% increase.

According to data from the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA), in the 12 months to March 2023, dispensing activity in England increased by 4%, with the average volume dispensed by community pharmacies rising to 8,078 items per month.

In the same period, 452,614 advance services were undertaken across 8,629 pharmacy settings.

The highest volume of service delivery was through the NHS Community Pharmacist Consultation Service, in which 6,808 pharmacies delivered 134,729 consultations.

The second largest was blood pressure tests, for which 4,680 pharmacies undertook 119,913 checks.

Market challenges highlighted in the report include drug shortages, not only impacting supply but also resulting in a significant price rise.

Employment challenges were also outlined, with the sector facing pressure from pharmacists and qualified staff being lured away to GP surgery and primary care network roles under the ongoing Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme.

Data supplied by Locate a Locum showed that between 2022 and 2023, locum rates rose by 0.3% in England, 7.6% in Wales and 17.5% in Northern Ireland, while Scotland saw a decrease of 2.9%.

Tony Evans, head of pharmacy at Christie & Co, predicted that 2024 would be a ‘big year for the sector in England’, as a new funding package to replace the 2019 five-year deal should be delivered by the sector’s negotiators.

‘The success of such negotiations will no doubt have a huge bearing on the future of pharmacy,’ he said.

‘It seems inconceivable that the government can continue to ignore the pressure the sector is facing in its delivery of what must be regarded as one of the most important services to impact the country's health.’