There are 166 fewer pharmacies in England than a year ago, reducing the network to its lowest level since 2015-16, new statistics from NHS Business Services Authority report.
The annual snapshot of the community pharmacy network in England reveals ongoing consolidation in the sector: during the year 239 pharmacies opened, but 405 closed, leaving a total for 2019-20 of 11,800 active community pharmacies.
Multiple operators have been hardest hit by the closures, reducing branches by 98 during the year (1.4 per cent). In contrast, the number of distance-selling pharmacies has risen by 15 (4 per cent) and the number of independent operators by 38 (0.8 per cent). This equates to market shares of 60.1 per cent (multiples), 39.8 per cent (independents) and 3.2 per cent (distance selling).
The report also suggests that the bigger pharmacies are getting bigger, as the only dispensing volume ‘bands’ to show expansion in the number of operators during 2019-20 are those of over 6,001 items a month.
Unforeseen benefits remain the most commonly used application type in controlled areas where dispensing GPs operate – this year accounting for eight of the nine applications to open a pharmacy in these areas. However, none of these applications were successful during the year. This is the lowest number of applications in controlled areas for all five years of the report.
There was one application granted for outline consent/premises approval.
During the year pharmacies and appliance contractors dispensed 1,046 million prescription items, which is the highest level of dispensing in the previous five years, an 4.22 per cent increase in items dispensed since 2015-16. Some 808 million prescription items were dispensed via the Electronic Prescription Service (EPS) in 2019-20, accounting for 77.3 per cent of all items dispensed. This is an increase of 41.9 percentage points from 2015-16.
The cost of drugs and appliances reimbursed to community pharmacies and appliance contractors totalled £8,649 million in 2019-20. This was an increase of 5.10 per cent in 2018-19 following four consecutive years of decreases from the five year high of £8,664 million in 2015-16. Some 1.72 million seasonal influenza vaccines were administered by community pharmacies in 2019-20. This was 2.89 times more than in 2015-16.