Pharmacists have told ministers to “stop taking us for granted” after the number of community chemists in England hit a seven-year low.
There were 11,414 locations providing NHS services in 2022/23, the lowest figure since 2015/16.
A report from the NHS Business Services Authority showed 297 new pharmacies opened in the most recent year, but 388 closed.
They dispensed 1.08 billion prescription items in 2022/23, up 3.4 percent on the previous 12 months.
Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said the figures should be “a wake-up call” for the Government.
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She said: “This shows the extent of the crisis in the sector, which is only going to get worse. The Government, NHS are asking pharmacies to do more and more, the public is rightly turning to us for guidance because of the difficulties of getting advice elsewhere – yet pharmacies are closing.
“Why? Because without proper funding they are unable to cope. Due to years of underfunding many pharmacies cannot afford paying their bills.”
Dr Hannbeck said pharmacists were willing to support other parts of the ailing NHS. But she added: “Our NHS pharmacies are fast disappearing. Ministers and the NHS must stop taking us for granted.”
Janet Morrison, chief executive of Community Pharmacy England, said it was “hugely concerning” to see England’s pharmacy network shrinking.
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She added: “The surge in pharmacy closures shows just how critical trading conditions have become for community pharmacies, who have faced chronic underfunding and a 30 percent drop in real-term funding over the past seven years.
“With every pharmacy closure, patients and local communities are impacted, and the strain on nearby pharmacies only gets worse.
“Government and the NHS must step in urgently to fix these issues and to protect the community pharmacy services that so many people rely on nationwide.”
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A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Community pharmacies play a vital role in our healthcare system, backed by £2.6 billion a year, with 80 percent of people living within a 20-minute walk of a pharmacy and twice as many pharmacies in deprived areas.
“As part of our Long-Term Workforce Plan we’re providing thousands more training places for pharmacists and we have already announced £645 million in additional funding to support community pharmacies to supply prescription-only medicines for seven common conditions without the patient needing need to see a GP, which was widely welcomed by the sector.”
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