Thousands of High Street pharmacies in England face closure following plans to cut NHS funding by £170m, according to Health Minister Alistair Burt.
Department of Health officials argue that in some parts of the country there are more pharmacies than needed. But the Royal Pharmaceutical Society says this could put more pressure on GPs and accident and emergency departments.
Discussions on the proposals will continue until March. Official estimates suggest an average community pharmacy, as opposed to one within a hospital, receives about £220,000 in NHS funding each year.
But according to the Department of Health, funding for these pharmacies is set to fall from £2.8bn to £2.63bn from October as part of the drive to find £22bn of savings across the health service by 2020.
‘Time and energy’
While officials say it is not yet clear how many pharmacies will close, Mr Burt, Minister for Community and Social Care, estimates it could be between 1,000 and 3,000, out of 11,674 overall.
Speaking at a meeting of MPs and peers at the All-Party Pharmacy Group earlier this month, he said the extent of the closures would depend on the ability of individual pharmacies to cope with NHS funding cuts. But he warned smaller, independent pharmacies were most likely to be affected and this would be looked at.
Sandra Gidley from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society said: “We have a number of concerns. “We have spent a lot of time and energy encouraging people to come to pharmacies for health advice to cut pressure on A&E departments and GP services.
“Under the plans pharmacies could be forced to cut staff and have less capacity to give important health advice. “The government must consider the capacity that the community pharmacy network provides to relieve pressures on GPs and A&E.”
Meanwhile the Department of Health estimates there was a rise of about 20% in the number of pharmacies it funded between 2003 and 2015.
And it says about 40% of community pharmacies are found in clusters – with three or more within 10 minutes’ walk of each other.
Officials say other changes need to be considered too – such as click-and-collect services to allow patients to file prescriptions online. A Department of Health spokesperson said: “We are investing record amounts in the NHS, but the whole health and care sector must make efficiencies to fulfil the NHS’s own five-year plan.
“We want to improve the way patients access their medicines, through click-and-collect as well as being able to see pharmacists in care homes, GP surgeries and A&E. “There is no estimate of the number of pharmacies operating in coming years and with NHS England we are consulting on a scheme to give better support to isolated or rural pharmacies.”
NHS England is also involved in a pilot project, creating 400 clinical pharmacist roles to work within GP practices.