Consultant Deep Dive: Emerging Trends in the UK Pharmacy Market

5 mins

Here at Quad Recruitment, we have the joyous task of navigating the forever-changing pharmac...

James Roberts

By James Roberts

Here at Quad Recruitment, we have the joyous task of navigating the forever-changing pharmacy market in the UK. For anyone who works in pharmacy or is close to it, it is easy to understand how quickly things can change and how important it is to understand these changes to keep up with the times. This blog will give details on a few key changes we have seen in recent times and how they have impacted the market.

Market Share

Market share ultimately is how much of the market is controlled by each individual company, and so it plays a huge role in how UK pharmacy operates and adapts to changes. Let’s look back to 2022. It was broken down into three sections: large multiples (>100 stores) owned 46.5%, small multiples (6–99 stores) possessed 13.2%, and independents (1–5 stores) had 40.3%.

However, that all changed in 2023; this year it was time for the rise of independent pharmacies. According to the figures from NHSE collected before the end of August, you can see that independent pharmacies owned the majority at 46.1%, small multiples now only own 14.2%, and large multiples have 39.7%.

The main drivers for this, of course, were Lloyd’s Pharmacy shutting up shop, and by June 2023, they had reduced the number of stores they owned from 1,427 to 512, and Boots were selling 300 branches. Overall, there has been a 4% decline in the number of pharmacies owned. Again, the figures from NHSE data released in August show that small pharmacies opened 142 branches and closed 12, while large multiples closed 183 and opened just 3.

Vacancy Rates

Across the NHS, vacancy rates have doubled in the last year to 16%, a worrying rise. When asked, 44% of pharmacy owners said that filling vacancies is “really hard.” This will be due to the number of locum pharmacists increasing dramatically over the year, estimated to be around 80%. This conclusion can be drawn when you look at the fact that the number of people working in community pharmacies stayed the same, but the number of full-time employees dropped. 

A report of vacancies in 2023 stated that 71% of pharmacies are struggling with pharmacist vacancies; when all other staff are taken into consideration, one can only assume the figure would be even higher. There have been a considerable number of closures in the last few years, and at the same time, vacancy rates are rising. Pharmacies closing inherently will put more workers into the market looking for new jobs, right? That doesn’t seem to be the case.


This is probably one of the most important topics to discuss now, and unfortunately, it is mainly negative. Since 2016, funding has been cut by 30% in community pharmacies, and with the current cost crisis, some pharmacies are finding it hard to survive. With staff being asked to do more work for less money, sadly, some pharmacies are removing free services and reducing staffing levels and opening hours.

Funding from the NHS is crucial to the survival of a community pharmacy, as they rely on that for 90% of their income. This all goes towards stock, service equipment, and paying for the most valuable commodity in pharmacy—the pharmacist’s time. 

To some pharmacies, dispensing medication at a loss is too common, doing so to ensure the patients still get the medication prescribed as it is. At the end of the day, the public has a right to be able to collect medication, and this right can’t be ignored due to funding, so businesses are choosing a financial loss over not supplying their patients with medication. A drastic example of this is what happened with Atorvastatin this year.

Workload Pressures

There are several factors that impact this; however, the main one is how hard it is to find good-quality, trained staff willing to stay for a longer period.

There was a massive recruitment drive into PCN roles, which saw many pharmacists and technicians leave the community and enter more clinical roles in a GP practice or a wider PCN. That’s great for PCN and GP staffing levels, but all these qualified professionals had to come from somewhere, and that was community pharmacy. With no mention of how these will be replaced in the community, we saw an incline toward vacancies in community pharmacies, with no efforts to fill those voids. Meaning the workload stayed the same while the number of people tackling that workload decreased, in turn increasing waiting times for patients.

An interesting point to note is the automation of dispensing services; this has an incredible prospect of relieving those workload pressures. We can already see this in clinical settings, where some teams are using clinical systems with preset algorithms to help the staff optimize care for their patients. This is a very new concept to pharmacy; however, we can already see the positive impact it is having on healthcare, so it is only a matter of time until we see this rolled out in the community.

The main aim of automation is to relieve pressure on dispensing. It will achieve this by reducing errors found in accuracy checks, while pharmacists will still complete the clinical checks. It will also reduce the time taken to dispense a higher number of items, giving the whole team more time to focus on patient-centered tasks such as services and advising on conditions.

To conclude, the market has changed quite drastically in the last couple years. In short, the division of market share is almost opposite to what we have seen in previous years, with independents owning the majority of pharmacies and an overall decrease in the number of community pharmacies owned. On top of that, vacancy rates rose alongside workload pressures, with hopes that these will begin to decrease once new processes are implemented in the community.

If you are a pharmacist seeking assistance in navigating this capricious market, then get in touch! We are more than happy to help and advise on what may be available out there for you.