- Since 2015, 1000+ pharmacies and GP practices have permanently closed in England.
- Of these, 37% have occurred in the most deprived parts of England.
- Deprived communities in the North West, West Midlands and Yorkshire have faced some of the highest losses.
- Without action, primary care ‘cold spots’ could soon emerge – areas where the access to primary care is significantly reduced or inadequate altogether.
The CCA’s primary care findings featured in the Daily Mail. Read our primary care paper below:
The Company Chemists’ Association (CCA), the trade body for large pharmacy operators across Great Britain, analysed permanent closures of community pharmacies and GP practices in England.
Between 2015 and 2022, there has been a net loss of 670 pharmacies and 343 GP surgeries. 1,000+ access points to primary care have permanently shut their doors to patients.
Worryingly, closures are disproportionately affecting those in the communities that need access to healthcare the most. 37% of permanent closures of pharmacies and GP practices have occurred in the 20% most deprived parts of England.
Whilst primary care closures are a national challenge, current trends indicate that primary care ‘cold spots’ could soon emerge – areas where there is significantly reduced or inadequate access to a pharmacy or a GP. The CCA’s analysis shows that some of the most deprived neighbourhoods concentrated in the North West, the West Midlands and Yorkshire have faced the highest losses of local pharmacies and GP practices since 2015.
Primary care is essential to both accessing the NHS but also the health and economic prosperity of the population. Primary care access is a key priority for the current Government who will shortly outline their Primary Care Recovery Plan.
The CCA’s analysis demonstrates that the trend of permanent closures amongst pharmacies and GP practices is worsening. Moreover, this burden is likely to be felt unevenly with permanent closures occurring disproportionately in areas of high deprivation. Without action, deprived communities, where need is typically greater, may no longer be able to access the GP and pharmacy services they require.
Malcolm Harrison, Chief Executive of the Company Chemists’ Association said:
“The Government is sleepwalking into a disaster within primary care, and we could soon see primary care cold spots emerge in different parts of England. Unfortunately, the communities with the greatest need could see access to primary care services diminish the most which will only worsen health inequalities.
The CCA has been warning about permanent closures of pharmacies for some time. The sector is underfunded by more than £67,000 per pharmacy annually, money which could be invested in frontline staff to provide patient care.
This is a wake-up call to the Government – primary care desperately needs investment.
We’re calling for a fully-funded Pharmacy First scheme to bring investment into the sector and to ensure patients with minor ailments can be seen by their pharmacist first – freeing up GP time to see those patients who absolutely need to see their GP”.
Taiwo Owatemi MP, the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Pharmacy said:
“Health inequalities across the country are structural, deep-rooted and continue to have devastating consequences for our most underprivileged communities. It is shocking to think that nearly 40% of pharmacy and GP surgery closures have occurred in the most deprived parts of our country. We know that health is intrinsically linked to economic prosperity – and without sufficient access to basic healthcare, I worry that these communities will see a downturn in life expectancy, opportunities, and the ability to compete with those from wealthier areas, entrenching these inequalities ever more deeply. As ever, it is the poorest who feel the brunt when services are cut.
The community pharmacy sector is critically underfunded and only by long term investment over an extended period of time will we begin to see an end to the mass departure of pharmacy staff to other sectors across the primary care network. The CCA’s research makes clear that the situation is dire with nearly 700 pharmacies closing their doors for good between 2015 and 2022. There simply can be no more delays. People across the country are already missing out on crucial healthcare support – this underutilised sector must be given the support it needs.
Too frequently we view our pharmacies as just being the shop where we pick up our medicines. Pharmacies can and must be commissioned to do so much more. In Wales and Scotland, Pharmacy First schemes are already in place so that urgent care can be provided inside pharmacies, within communities where people live. England must follow.
Over 30.5 million appointments could be shifted away from general practice every year by trusting patients to know when they need care. Pharmacies should be the first port of call for any minor illnesses. Pharmacists have the skills already; they just want the opportunity to put them into practice. Yet, this can only happen if the Government is prepared to step up to the plate and make those long-term commitments to the sector that will keep it alive for future generations.”
Professor Kamila Hawthorne, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners said:
“Closing a GP practice will be one of the saddest and most difficult decisions a GP partner can make, particularly if the reason for it is unmanageable workload or not being able to fill vacancies, and this is likely to be the case for community pharmacies, as well. The sense of disappointment at not being able to fulfil our commitments to our patients runs deep.
“Workload and workforce pressures are affecting GP surgeries and community pharmacies across the country but can have a greater impact in deprived areas where patients often have more complex health needs, and GPs have more patients per doctor. The loss of a GP practice or pharmacy in these areas will clearly have a stark impact on the community.
“GPs and our teams want to deliver safe, timely and appropriate care to our patients wherever they live, but decades of underfunding and poor workforce planning have left general practice in crisis. In 2022, GPs delivered 340 million appointments, nearly 9% more than in 2019, while on average the size of the workforce has fallen by 754 since 2019.
“This is why the College is calling on Government to implement a new recruitment and retention strategy that goes beyond the target of 6,000 more GPs it pledged in its election manifesto, as well as investment in GP practices and IT systems to make it easier for patients to access appropriate care. Government must also take steps to cut bureaucracy so that GPs have more time to deliver care to the growing numbers of patients who need it.”