The largest pharmacy multiples close branches for full or part days at more than 15 times the rate of other community pharmacies, according to the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA).

The figure was revealed by NHS Health Boards in Scotland following a freedom of information request by the PDA.

The data showed there were 1,625 closures by pharmacies operated by the eight members of the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) between January and May 2002, compared with 114 closures by non-CCA pharmacies, according to the PDA.

The CCA is the trade association for large pharmacy operators in England, Scotland and Wales, representing Asda, Boots, LloydsPharmacy, Morrisons, Rowlands Pharmacy, Superdrug, Tesco and Well.

The PDA said that while it understood that pharmacies could not avoid all closures as a result of unexpected circumstances such as last-minute sickness, power cuts and extreme weather, it would expect the reasons for closures would impact CCA members in a similar proportion to non-CCA members.

However, it accepted that the owner of an independent outlet may themselves be a pharmacist and able to step in as the responsible pharmacist when needed, whereas this may not be possible within a multiple business.

The PDA said the data provided in the freedom of information request related to Scotland only, even though the headquarters of all CCA members are located in England.

It has previously warned that the closure of community pharmacies by the large corporations could seriously harm patients.

A spokesperson for the CCA said that its member pharmacies had served Scottish communities and patients without issue for decades, but that recent pressures involving the demand for pharmacists outstripping supply were unprecedented and unsustainable.

They said: ‘Workforce challenges are affecting all parts of healthcare across the UK – and community pharmacy is no different. Pharmacists remain on the Home Office’s shortage occupation list for this reason. The average locum rate rose by 124% in Scotland in 2021 compared to the year before and the trend seems to have continued since.

‘Our members have been affected by unplanned sickness, including two Covid surges in January and April 2022, and holiday periods just like other parts of the sector. These closures may reflect very small parts of the opening day, as companies try tirelessly to plug gaps at short notice.

‘It is worth remembering that community pharmacies do not earn income if they do not open. Closures are an absolute last resort, and our members are working extraordinarily hard to ensure patient access.’

This comes after the PDA warned that corporations closing community pharmacies for commercial reasons could seriously harm patients.

However, contractors told The Pharmacist earlier this month that pharmacy closures have been due to a genuine lack of pharmacists - for example, due to Covid infections - rather than commercial reasons such as high locum rates.