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Pharmacies at Breaking Point As More to Close

Girl in a pharmacy

The above heading is from a recent newspaper headline this week just after Boots has announced it will close 300 of its pharmacies. "Every time a pharmacy closes, more work is landing on the other pharmacies without those other pharmacies actually having more support." Leylla Hanbeck CEO of the Association of Multiple Pharmacies.

Pharmacies have always been an important part of UK healthcare. As a child in the 1970's Spalding was blessed with an old fashioned pharmacy called Molsons complete with wooden shelves stacked with apothecarial bottles and pestle and mortars that were in use. Many would see Mr Molson with a problem rather than see their Doctor and be rewarded with a medicine of one form or another. As we entered the late 80's this style of use of a pharmacy reduced as pharmacies became increasingly corporate, dominated by Boots, but also with the growing Supermarkets entering this lucrative market.

Boots the chemist is the latest large company to plan to put a hatchet through local services following the lead taken by High Street Banks. Boots has announced it is to axe 300 of its 2,200 pharmacies, with no doubt rural towns like where I now live in Amble likely to be one of the closed premises.

There is a familiar pattern in the running down of a business that is part of a chain of events I have seen over the years. For me the "writing was on the wall" when I went into Boots in Amble to obtain disposable gloves, a basic essential of first aid and care that I would expect them to stock, only to be told that they had been unable to stock them since Covid! If you look at other nearby Branches of Boots you see a shortage of pharmacists being a challenge to make the local press. Now this pattern of "winding down" service, although I am sure Boots would deny it, is one I am all too familiar with as I saw it over twenty years ago in High Street Banks as they had their staff reduced, their abilities and services reduced, opening hours reduced, and ultimate closure - at that time online services were not dominant, although they were growing rapidly.

We are at this turning point with pharmacy services in that online supply via apps and the internet is growing rapidly, but not yet dominant. However, there is a key difference - pharmacies deliver so much service that cannot be provided online including jabs and health and welfare advice in a face to face manner that helps reduce the burgeoning load on doctors in general practise. Indeed, the government has dedicated advertising campaigns encouraging the use of a pharmacist wherever possible in preference to your GP.

The loss of a pharmacy in a rural town has so much more effect than just that town, because the very nature of a rural town is that it can have a wide catchment area. In Amble it may be considerable in area, but in rural towns inland (Rothbury and Wooler come to mind in Northumberland Louth and Horncastle in Lincolnshire) it can be extensive.

I do concede that Boots is a business, as are the various Banks that closed branches. But with key service providers like pharmacies, Banking, Post Offices, Petrol stations, it is a balancing act that for profitable companies carries a social responsibility of the sort recognised by the likes of Cadbury when he supplied affordable housing to his workers.

However, over the years, we as consumers have joined an accelerating race to the bottom on price and cost. We have bought plasters and potions from supermarkets, sought the cheapest deal on our banking wishing not to pay for anything. In this race to the bottom on price have we undermined the viability of local services? Or does the perpetual need for corporations to reduce costs and increase profits trumped any desire to fulfil a social responsibility? My opinion is that it is perhaps a little of both.


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