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Pharmacy ‘tsunami’ of closures heap pressure on struggling GPs

BRITAIN’S pharmacies are facing a “tsunami of closures” through government underfunding and “rotten contracts,” the profession’s representative body has warned.

A flagship government scheme intended to ease pressure on GPs by urging patients to consult their pharmacist first is heading for disaster, it is claimed, less than two months after launch.

The Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies said that more than 400 community pharmacies across England closed between 2019 and 2023, and that community pharmacists are collectively facing a £1.2 billion shortfall in funding.

In January, the government launched its so-called Pharmacy First scheme, under which patients with seven common conditions are encouraged to consult their pharmacist instead of seeking an appointment with their GP.

The conditions are sinusitis, sore throat, earache, infected insect bite, the bacterial skin infection impetigo, shingles, and “uncomplicated” urinary tract infections in women.

Pharmacists were paid an initial £2,000 to take part in the scheme, followed by £1,000 a month and £15 per consultation on condition that they carried out at least 30 patient consultations a month.

But rather than easing pressure on GPs, it has increased it, the association said, because of increasing numbers of closures and the scheme’s underfunding.

Chief executive Dr Leyla Hannbeck said: “Our new analysis clearly shows that the loss of community pharmacies results in even more pressure piling up on hard-pressed GP surgeries.”

She said some pharmacists were in such financial trouble that they were having to turn to family and friends for financial help to keep going.

“We want to be part of the solution to many of the issues facing the NHS, but chronic underfunding, medicine supply challenges and a dysfunctional reimbursement system have created the perfect storm of pharmacy closures,” she said.

“If we continue down this path, we risk creating a tsunami of further pharmacy closures across the country.

“If the government is honest in its ambition to realise the full potential of pharmacy and reduce pressure on GPs, it needs to properly fund its Pharmacy First initiative and address the rotten contract which is infecting our sector, leaving many pharmacists struggling as closures spread.”

Dr Nick Mann, GP and member of the campaign group Keep Our NHS Public, said: “The government has systematically defunded these critical community services and every time it’s patients who lose out.

“Poorer services are hollowing out patient care, and with each new set of closures, we are seeing health inequalities rising and patient services deteriorating.”

The Department of Health was invited to comment.

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