The equivalent of 10 local pharmacies are closing their doors each week, according to analysis by the National Pharmacy Association (NPA).

And the number of bricks and mortar pharmacies closing between January and April 2024 is nearly 50% higher than in the same period last year, the NPA said.

The association’s analysis of NHS Business Services Authority figures found that 177 pharmacies closed between January and April this year, compared to 116 in the same time period in 2023.

And 403 pharmacies closed their doors last year, nearly five times higher than in 2022, the NPA added.

Paul Rees, NPA chief executive, described the ‘skyrocketing’ figures as ‘absolutely shocking and distressing’.

He warned that since funding for the sector has failed to keep up with inflation, ‘pharmacies are being left with the choice of closing their doors or drastically reducing the service they can offer their local communities, making it more difficult for millions of people to get advice and vital medication’.

‘Community pharmacies face a perfect storm of rapidly declining levels of real terms government funding and high levels of inflation – which is both increasing the cost of dispensing medicine and pushing many community pharmacies to the brink,’ he said.

‘Government funding no longer covers the costs of the nation’s medicines, leaving pharmacies to subsidise the NHS from their own pockets.'

And he called for ‘a new deal’ that ‘delivers fair funding and provides an end to the mass closure of community pharmacies.’

Janet Morrison, chief executive of Community Pharmacy England (CPE), said the analysis was 'further evidence' of the 'stark reality' facing pharmacies.

And she warned that if government and NHS 'do not reverse' their 'policy' of placing a 'financial squeeze on the sector', 'and fast', further closures would put medicines supply 'at great risk' and make vital healthcare services 'ever more chaotic'.

She said that while the £645m awarded to the sector in the primary care recovery plan was 'very much needed', it was 'not enough to reverse all of the pressures on community pharmacies', adding: 'increased and sustained government and NHS support are also desperately needed'.

'The viability of pharmacy businesses remains our critical concern in funding discussions with policymakers,' Ms Morrison added.

In response to the NPA analysis, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: 'More than four in five people live within a 20-minute walk of a pharmacy, and there are twice as many pharmacies in deprived areas, making access to care quicker and more convenient.'

And they highlighted that up to £645m of new funding had been made available over two years to support the expansion of community pharmacy services, including Pharmacy First, on top of the £2.6 billion a year pharmacies already receive.

'We are also consulting with Community Pharmacy England on the funding and contract arrangements for 2024/25,' they added.

The Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) has also recently commented on the ‘financial strain’ faced by pharmacies.

CCA chief executive Malcolm Harrison told The Pharmacist this week that it was ‘unlikely’ that community pharmacies would be able to benefit from planned changes to hub and spoke dispensing ‘unless the government’s funding for medicines supply is increased’.

And analysis released by the CCA last month suggested that the community pharmacy sector in England has experienced a net loss of 432 bricks and mortar pharmacies over the last financial year – an average loss of more than eight pharmacies each week.

Meanwhile, 89% of contractors told an ITV documentary earlier this year that they had experienced months of dispensing at a loss.

And the community pharmacy negotiator recently warned that ‘putting further pressure on pharmacies to dispense at a loss will have very serious consequences for the sector, patients and the wider primary care system’, after changes to price concessions were introduced.

But the government has suggested that the provision of pharmacy services is currently balanced ‘in a different way’, citing a recent 9% increase in distance selling pharmacies (DSPs) alongside a 9% reduction in the number of local community pharmacies.