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Pharmacy consolidations rising slowly but steadily

The number of community pharmacies consolidating into a single premises has risen slowly but steadily since regulations were changed in 2016, new statistics from NHS Digital show.

NHS Digital revealed in its November 7 report on the provision of general pharmaceutical services between 2008-9 and 2018-19 that there were no consolidations to existing premises in 2016-17, rising to 10 in 2017-18 and 28 in 2018-19. Throughout this period, there were no consolidations that resulted in new premises.

Regulatory changes came into force in December 2016 facilitating the consolidation of pharmacy businesses from two sites to a single existing site. PSNC said at the time the changes meant new pharmacies “would be prevented from stepping in straight away” where a consolidation leads to one party vacating their premises, offering protection to those seeking to merge.

The current Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework states that the Government and PSNC will seek to “strengthen the protections offered to pharmacies wishing to consolidate… while maintaining fair and open competition and access to NHS pharmaceutical services”.

These efforts will include looking at ways to simplify prescription endorsement requirements and making “administrative improvements” within the Drug Tariff, according to the CPCF.

PSNC chief Simon Dukes told Pharmacy Network News: “The financial pressures on community pharmacies – and indeed all of the NHS – are considerable and contractors need to look at all the available options for their businesses.

“Consolidations will be the answer for some and PSNC is doing all it can to make this process easier, legally and from a regulatory perspective. Negotiations with HM Government on how best to achieve this are ongoing.”

Distance selling pharmacy market stalls

The NHS Digital report showed that 103 pharmacies closed during 2018-19, while 38 opened. In total there were 11,539 community pharmacies in England in 2018-19, representing a decrease of 0.7 per cent compared to the previous year and an increase of 9.8 per cent since 2008-09.

Meanwhile, growth in the distance selling pharmacy market appears to have stalled for the first time in 10 years. Whereas the number of pharmacies offering distance selling services rose every year since 2008, it fell from 350 to 349 between 2017-18 and 2018-19.

The report pointed to a drop in the number of items dispensed for the third year running, falling by 7 million to 1.006 billion, although the number of average monthly items per community pharmacy remained unchanged from 2017-18 at 7,267.  

In terms of service provision, the number of flu jabs provided in community pharmacies rose by almost 100,000 to 1.43 million. Meanwhile, in the last year of pharmacies being able to claim for 400 medicines use reviews, MUR numbers rose by around 2,000 to 929,860.

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