The latest increase to the national living wage (NLW) could cost some pharmacies as much as £20,000, the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) has claimed.

According to a survey of ‘dozens’ of members, it was suggested that ‘many’ pharmacies will face increased costs of more than £10,000 a year and for some, the extra costs ‘will be more than twice that amount’, it said.

The NPA’s warning follows concerns that new powers to enable pharmacy technicians to supply medicines under patient group directions (PGDs) could lead to increased wage costs for pharmacies employing staff in this role.

As of 1 April, the NLW, which employers are legally required to pay, rose from £10.42 to £11.44 per hour, and will apply to those aged 21 and over, while minimum wages for younger employees and apprentices have also increased.

NPA chief executive Paul Rees said that pharmacy costs, including salaries, had risen ‘relentlessly’, while funding for the sector remained at a flat rate.

‘It’s time for a new deal that allows pharmacies to invest in staff and services and halts pharmacy closures, which are at record levels,’ he said.

‘Up to three-quarters of pharmacies are running at a deficit. We need to restore community pharmacy funding to 2.5% of the NHS budget - the historical norm – to keep vital services going.’

And Olivier Picard, NPA vice chair and owner of Newdays Pharmacy in Buckinghamshire, commented: ‘Dedicated pharmacy staff deserve a decent wage, but this increase represents yet another hike in costs for a sector which has lost more than £1.3bn in real terms over the past decade.

‘Unless there’s an increase in NHS funding we could see more closures and a decline in the pharmacy services our patients rely on.

‘Each new, unfunded cost makes pharmacies more unsustainable. We need proper funding for these vital local practices to maintain the amazing support they give communities up and down the country.’

The increase comes as concerns have been raised about the impact on salary costs of pharmacy technicians taking on more responsibility, as proposals to allow them to supply medicines under PGDs were passed, subject to parliamentary approval.

One response to the government’s consultation around pharmacy technicians supplying medicines under PGDs noted: ‘Pharmacy technicians would expect an increase in wages in line with this responsibility which would add pressure to the economy.’

And the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) highlighted that the government’s impact assessment released in line with the consultation ‘fails to recognise that upskilling technicians and giving them additional responsibilities is likely to drive up the salaries of technicians beyond current levels, resulting in additional financial pressures for pharmacy businesses’.

‘These proposals will not reduce the cost base of delivering services when compared to services delivered by a pharmacist,’ the CCA added in its consultation response.

And NHS England primary care director Dr Amanda Doyle acknowledged to a parliamentary inquiry into pharmacy last week that as roles were developed and extended, ‘then some people’s jobs will require evaluation’.