Consultant Deep Dive: Community Pharmacy — A Changing Market

4 mins

From the closure of large multiples to the rise of independent pharmacies and the clear visi...


From the closure of large multiples to the rise of independent pharmacies and the clear vision for community pharmacies to become increasingly clinically focused.

There have been huge changes across the community pharmacy market over the last few years. Some of these changes, in combination with the chronic underfunding of community pharmacies, led to many pharmacies being sold and others being closed.

The Fall of Large Corporations 

Although several large multiples have sold or closed branches over the past year, the most dramatic overhaul has been for Lloyds Pharmacy, which has sold most of its high street stores and closed all 237 branches in Sainsbury’s supermarkets.

As part of this ongoing activity, Well Pharmacy & Boots also considers divestments and consolidations when the opportunity arises.

Asda and Tesco also announced closures during 2023, with Asda closing seven pharmacies that had been running at a loss for a number of years and Tesco closing eight pharmacies. Boots, which is still the largest multiple by far, with over 2,000 branches, announced in June 2023 that 300 of its pharmacies would close over the next year, in addition to the 200 branches that had closed since 2019.

This mass sale of large multiples creates an opportunity for family-run businesses to expand and grow, as well as for independent pharmacists to achieve their goal of running their own pharmacy.  

The Rise of Small Multiples & Independents

The high street began with many family-run businesses, including pharmacists, providing the communities they served with medicines and other services. Being able to access advice and medicines locally was essential at a time when many consumers did most or all their shopping on the high street.

But with the rise of a few more prominent names in the pharmacy game, the independent family-owned shops became few and far between. This, coupled with pharmacies becoming increasingly common inside supermarkets, caused independent operators to take a hit and take up a small portion of the market.

Now, pharmacy usage trends are changing again, and the momentum is shifting back to family-run operations. an increasing customer preference for independently run pharmacies, these changes are following a broader move away from large faceless companies to supporting the local businesses in your area. To meet this change of preferences, here’s what the independent pharmacy can offer that keeps customers returning.

Service Driven Market

The five-year pharmacy contract, agreed in 2019 for pharmacies in England, fixed funding levels until 2024. It also set out a clear vision for community pharmacy to become increasingly clinically focused, with less emphasis on dispensing and more on providing services in a community setting.

Pharmacies are now increasingly a place where you can find a wide range of services, from screenings and vaccinations to make-up and gifts to toys and food. As well as medicines and advice from a health professional, it’s these additional services that are making the difference for customers.

Let’s Not Forget Pharmacy First

Pharmacy First was launched by the government and NHS England at the end of January with the purpose of giving patients quick and accessible care and easing pressure on GP services. It is a crucial first step in recognising and properly funding the enormous amount of healthcare advice that community pharmacies provide to the public every day and in establishing and funding community pharmacies as the first port of call for healthcare advice.

“Is community pharmacy ready for the Pharmacy First...” Just a month in, and many pharmacy owners have already raised concerns around workload, funding, and other issues.

We are all aware of the significant pressure on pharmacy teams, and the introduction of new clinical services along with the necessary training will only escalate the demand for professionals.

However, I am confident that technology holds the key to addressing this challenge. Implementing effective systems enhances workflow and efficiency and can streamline operations as community pharmacies expand their roles, enabling pharmacy professionals to establish better communication with GP practices.

The role of technology isn't solely crucial for new services; it also plays a vital role in supporting safe and efficient dispensing, which remains fundamental to pharmacy practice. Solutions like hub-and-spoke dispensing have the potential to liberate pharmacists' time, allowing them to focus on delivering additional services, including clinical assessments and accuracy checks within the patient medication record (PMR).

To Conclude

The outlook for community pharmacy is promising, marked by significant national developments. Commissioners play a crucial role in aiding local systems to seize these opportunities fully. This involves cultivating relationships, engaging with patients and the public, comprehending local requirements, and actively participating in evaluation and learning processes.

Community pharmacy is a constantly changing market that everyone will need to adapt, evaluate, and learn.