Local pharmacies under threat from £170m funding cuts must remain at the heart of communities, the Local Government Association (LGA) has announced.
The 6% budget reduction, scheduled from October 2016, could force up to 3,000 pharmacies to close their doors, cutting off a vital lifeline for elderly and vulnerable patients.
The LGA, which represents more than 370 councils who have responsibility for public health, has said there is a risk more people would attend surgery, compounding existing pressures.
Cllr Izzi Seccombe, LGA community wellbeing spokeswoman, said: “Maintaining community pharmacies is crucial to keeping older and frail people independent.
“They need to be at the heart of communities, close to where people shop, work and go about their daily lives, rather than the heart of the NHS.”
The LGA said the closure of community pharmacies could leave many isolated and vulnerable residents, particularly in deprived areas, struggling to access pharmacies for potentially life-saving medicines.
For some people the local pharmacy is their only contact with a health professional, providing access to invaluable health advice and enabling older people to live more independently.
Cllr Seccombe said: “For many elderly people, their local pharmacist is not just a dispenser of medicines, but someone who they know and look to for informal health advice and information.
“Vulnerable and elderly people should never be forced to travel potentially long distances to pick up vital medicines and receive health advice.”
Rather than facing closures, community pharmacists should be changing to play a bigger role in providing public health services, the association has explained.
Pharmacies already provide vital public health services including health checks, smoking cessation, sexual health, screening and immunisations as well as dispensing and selling medicines.
Councils have said local pharmacies should be expanded within their communities and have highlighted the diversity pharmacy premises bring to the high street.