MP warns of risk of losing ‘lifeline’ network of pharmacies in Norfolk
- Credit: PA
A major chain of pharmacies has announced plans to close up to 190 branches – prompting a Norfolk MP to warn about the health and social risks of losing the 'lifeline' service.
LloydsPharmacy's parent company has blamed government policy, funding cuts and business rates for the move, but has not yet revealed which branches are under threat.
The chain has nearly 40 pharmacies across Norfolk and Suffolk, including concessions in Sainsbury's supermarkets. It said it was looking to sell some of the stores and could not confirm closures until negotiations were concluded.
Cormac Tobin, managing director at LloydsPharmacy owner Celesio UK, said the closures were in response to 'the dramatic funding and reimbursement cuts over the past 24 months'.
'Community pharmacy needs to adapt to the changing requirements of patients and the NHS, indeed it should be part of the solution to an overstretched health service,' Mr Tobin said.
'To achieve this, we need a new operational framework that creates a thriving pharmacy network that continues to offer essential integrated healthcare and is rooted in local communities.'
Mr Tobin said the company would be taking steps to support staff and minimise disruption for patients.
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A leaked internal memo to staff – which was verified by a spokesman for Celesio UK – said the business has been hit by pharmacy funding cuts, as well as business rates and the apprenticeship levy, which had made 'market conditions challenging'.
The government's community pharmacy budget was cut from £2.8bn in 2015-16 to £2.687bn in 2016-17, with a further reduction to 2.592bn in this financial year – a 7.5% reduction in two years.
The loss of pharmacies is another potential blow to the high street, with Norwich and Peterborough Building Society midway through its closure programme, and research by Which? magazine finding that some 700 bank branches would close their doors for the final time this year. The prospect has raised fears that vulnerable customers could be left struggling to access services.
Norwich South MP Clive Lewis, who has been campaigning to protect community pharmacies since 2015, said: 'If LloydsPharmacy can't deal with the financial regime, how many others will be able to?
'I think this is a real warning signal from a part of the health sector which is essential. You don't realise how important these pharmacies are until they have gone – for many people they are a lifeline.'
Mr Lewis also pointed to their importance to community life in bringing customers to neighbouring shops, a view shared by Community Action Norfolk chief executive Jon Clemo.
He said the loss of pharmacies could also pile pressure on other parts of a stretched NHS.
'At a time when we are looking for our pharmacists to have a greater role in healthcare in our communities, it is concerning we might be losing a significant chunk of that provision,' he said.
'We have to make sure that every person who needs it can access health care in an appropriate way.'
A Number 10 spokesman said there were measures in place to ensure people could access a pharmacy.
The spokesman said: 'There are almost 12,000 private pharmacies in England and these closures today make up just 1.6% of the number.
'We don't have full information on the announcement as yet, but we do make sure that patients can access pharmacists where they need to.'