Almost 650 pharmacies have vanished from high streets across England in the past six years.
Overall, one in 18 has shut since 2016, but in the worst-hit places more than a fifth have gone, leaving ‘chemist deserts’ where people struggle to access vital services.
Last night chemists said a mix of sky-high business rates, poor financial recognition for their role and the ‘Amazonification’ of medicine supplies had conspired to bring many down.
And they warned the trend would only continue unless Ministers acknowledged their plight and took steps to save them.
Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, which represents many family-run businesses, said: ‘In the past six years, almost 650 pharmacies in England have closed their doors for good, and more are set to follow.
Most have disappeared because of the increasing financial burden placed upon them. The attitude of our health service towards pharmacies is “something for nothing”. They’re asked to do more and more, for no commensurate reward.’
Another threat is an NHS move to bypass high street pharmacies altogether by sending medicines to patients by courier or Royal Mail.
The initiative is intended to cut NHS costs, but cuts out a vital funding stream for pharmacies which get most of their income from managing NHS prescriptions.
Dr Hannbeck said that during the pandemic, ‘pharmacies did what came naturally to them’ by staying open throughout and ‘honouring their responsibility to communities and to the NHS’.