Funding cuts could close hundreds of pharmacies


Funding cuts could force hundreds of local pharmacies to close, cutting off a vital lifeline for elderly and vulnerable people and leaving some facing long journeys to collect essential medicines, councils warn today.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils – who have responsibility for public health – is warning a £170 million reduction in NHS funding for community pharmacies could put many out of business.

In its response to the Department of Health’s consultation over proposals to instead use clinical pharmacists in primary care settings such as GP practices, the LGA insists local pharmacies must remain at the heart of communities, rather than risk bringing more people to surgeries and adding to existing pressures.

The LGA says the closure of community pharmacies could leave many isolated and vulnerable residents, particularly in deprived areas, struggling to access pharmacies for their potentially life-saving medicines.

For some people the local pharmacy is their only contact with a health professional, providing access to invaluable health advice and enabling older people to live more independently.

A bigger role for community pharmacies would instead help take away some of the strain from hospitals and GP practices. Local pharmacies should be expanded within their communities, say councils, providing important public health services such as health checks, smoking cessation, sexual health, screening and immunisations, in addition to dispensing and selling medicines.

Pharmacies should modernise, with new ways of ordering prescriptions and collecting medicines, including online ordering and delivery to the patient’s home.

Community pharmacies are also vital to ensure diverse and vibrant high streets, which can otherwise be dominated by betting shops, fast food outlets and payday lenders. The LGA said vacancy rates have doubled in recent years, with the amount of money shoppers are spending halved and insisted local pharmacies must remain at the heart of communities.

Cllr Izzi Seccombe, LGA Community Wellbeing spokeswoman, said:

“Maintaining community pharmacies is crucial to keeping older and frail people independent. They need to be at the heart of communities, close to where people shop, work and go about their daily lives, rather than the heart of the NHS.

“For many elderly people, their local pharmacist is not just a dispenser of medicines, but someone who they know and look to for informal health advice and information. Vulnerable and elderly people should never be forced to travel potentially long distances to pick up vital medicines and receive health advice.

“Community pharmacies do need to change but the cuts in funding could lead to many being forced to close. They should actually play a bigger role in providing public health services, alongside their important existing roles of supplying medicines. Additional investment in community pharmacies could improve the prevention of disease and access to health services. They can also help contribute to thriving high streets.

“Being at the heart of communities means pharmacies see people in every state of health and are ideally placed to play a central role in the prevention of illness, which can reduce costs and pressures on the NHS and adult social care.”

Case studies of how pharmacies are playing a vital role in communities

Lincolnshire – co-location of library, pharmacy and post office

In November 2012, the library in Waddington moved into the Lincolnshire Co-operative pharmacy, with the aim of creating a community hub of key village services. The site also includes a post office. £70,000 investment provided a distinct library section featuring 4,000 books, a photocopier, self-issue technology, two internet computers, an enquiries desk and seating areas. The pharmacy was also refurbished, including new seating and a new consultation area. The new arrangements mean that people in the village can borrow books during the pharmacy’s opening hours, whereas previously the library was only open for 14 hours a week. This model brings together on one site three of the key local sources of information, advice and signposting and in so doing, increases their likelihood of survival.

Hampshire – pharmacy-based chlamydia screening, treatment and emergency contraception provision

Community pharmacies in Hampshire are delivering a range of local authority commissioned sexual health services including chlamydia screening kits for 16 to 24 year olds, free condoms for 13 to 24 year olds and antibiotic treatment of chlamydia.

Norfolk – community-based physical activity supported by community pharmacy

In Norfolk, community pharmacies have been working with national and local sports organisations to develop a series of community walking groups and community activities to encourage physical activity for people aged 50 and over. The programme is promoted through community pharmacies in conjunction with lifestyle advice and health services such as cholesterol testing and health checks and Medicine Use Reviews. The programme builds on the expertise and accessibility of community pharmacy to support people to make informed choices about their health and wellbeing.