Rise in unplanned pharmacy closures in Midlothian “very dangerous” says MSP

South Scotland List MSP Craig Hoy (Con) has raised concerns about the number of unscheduled and avoidable pharmacy closures taking place in Midlothian.

Craig Hoy, a Conservative MSP for South Scotland, is concerned about pharmacy closures in Midlothian.
Craig Hoy, a Conservative MSP for South Scotland, is concerned about pharmacy closures in Midlothian.

Recent figures obtained by The Pharmacists’ Defence Association from NHS Lothian indicates that there were at least 299 unplanned pharmacy closures in Lothian between January and May 2022. 96 per cent of these closures were by major UK chains, including 126 Boots pharmacy closures and 123 Lloyds pharmacy closures.

Mr Hoy is now calling on NHS Lothian and the Scottish Government to consider introducing penalties to prevent further unplanned pharmacy closures.

He said: “Pharmacies are an important lifeline for so many people who need to collect live-saving prescriptions from their GP. But the unplanned closure of a pharmacy creates a significant risk to patient health, and these closures are currently happening with impunity.

“An unplanned pharmacy closure has no effect on Government funding provided to pharmacy to stay open, and many pharmacy closures are the result of major chains choosing to close their doors early in the pursuit of profit.

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"This is a misuse of public money and it undermines patient care.

“The current situation is unsustainable and very dangerous for patients who collect life-saving medicine from pharmacies on a regular basis.”

Scott Garden, director of pharmacy and medicines, NHS Lothian, said: “We are aware of the current situation of ongoing short notice pharmacy closures in Lothian. We understand this to also be an issue across Scotland, with pharmacist and pharmacy staff availability the most common reason for an unplanned closure, and there is ongoing dialogue with the Scottish Government.

“NHS Lothian regularly engages with pharmacy contractors, to remind them of their obligations to deliver services within their contracted hours. There have been numerous communications to remind contractors of the steps that must be followed when an unplanned closure occurs, for example: informing the local GP practices, neighbouring community pharmacies, contacting vulnerable patients and ensuring deliveries have been made to patients.”

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He added: “NHS Lothian continues to meet with the area and regional managers of multiple pharmacy groups, and we are currently collaborating on area-wide plans to manage and minimise the impact of closures on local communities.”

Maurice Hickey, head of policy for the Pharmacists’ Defence Association, said: “Frontline pharmacists are extremely concerned about the number of unscheduled and avoidable pharmacy closures that are routinely happening across Scotland, and deny patients access to their medication and vital services such as NHS Pharmacy First, which is designed to allow community pharmacies to give people expert help for treating common ailments such as diarrhoea, allergies and cold sores, along with common clinical conditions such as urinary tract infections (UTI's), impetigo and shingles without them having to visit their GP practice or local A & E for non-urgent treatment.

“Every pharmacy closure displaces patients and carers who are unable to access their regular pharmacy to other parts of the system, and these closures cause sudden, unexpected and unnecessary increases in workload at neighbouring pharmacies, NHS-24, GP surgeries, social care services, A & E and all the other out of hour NHS services; as NHS Scotland recovers from Covid-19 all these services are already over subscribed, and it is crucial that if these are to be protected then pharmacies should not be allowed to close.

“When a pharmacy business chooses to close, their government funding is not affected, the Scottish pharmacy contract does not allow health boards to recover monies paid out for undelivered services.

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"These decisions are often not taken locally but by head offices based in England with the only possible justification being that of cutting costs and improving profitability. A Saturday closure saves the owner an estimated 8 to 17 per cent in wage costs alone.”

A letter from NHS Lothian’s Associate Director of Pharmacy, Mr Stephen McBurney, stated that unplanned pharmacy closures are “significantly impacting on patient care and access to medicines”.

Mr Burney’s letter added that there is a “clear duty on community pharmacy owners to ensure they deliver the terms and services of the arrangements that are in place with the NHS boards to provide pharmaceutical services”.