Rise in unplanned pharmacy closures in Midlothian ‘very dangerous’, says MSP

Craig Hoy, a Conservative MSP for southern Scotland, is concerned about the closure of pharmacies in Midlothian.

Latest figures obtained by The Pharmacists’ Defense Association from NHS Lothian show 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 urging 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 get life-saving prescriptions from their GP. However, the unplanned closure of a pharmacy poses a significant risk to the health of patients and these closures currently occur with impunity.

“An unplanned pharmacy closure has no impact on government funding for the pharmacy to stay open and many pharmacy closures are the result of large chains choosing to close their doors early to make a profit.

“This is a misuse of public funds and undermines patient care.

“The current situation is unsustainable and very dangerous for patients who regularly collect life-saving medicines from pharmacies.”

Scott Garden, Director of Pharmacy and Medicines, NHS Lothian, said: “We are aware of the current situation of ongoing short-term pharmacy closures in Lothian. We understand this is an issue across Scotland too, with the availability of pharmacists and pharmacy staff being the most common reason for an unplanned closure and there is an ongoing dialogue with the Scottish Government.

“NHS Lothian regularly works with pharmacy contractors to remind them of their obligation to provide services within their contracted working hours. There have been numerous communications to remind contractors of the steps to follow if there is an unplanned closure such as: notifying local GP surgeries, neighboring community pharmacies, contacting at-risk patients and ensuring deliveries are made to patients are.”

He added: “NHS Lothian continues to meet with area and regional managers from several pharmacy groups and we are currently working on nationwide plans to manage and minimize the impact of closures on local communities.”

Maurice Hickey, chief of policy for the Pharmacists’ Defense Association, said: “Pharmacists on the front line are extremely concerned at the number of unplanned and avoidable pharmacy closures that are routinely taking place across Scotland, denying patients access to their medicines and essential services such as NHS Pharmacy First, which aims to enable community pharmacies to give people expert help treating common conditions such as diarrhoea, allergies and cold sores, as well as common clinical conditions such as urinary tract infections (UTIs), impetigo and shingles, without them having to visit their GP office or local emergency department for non-urgent treatments.

“Each pharmacy closure forces patients and carers who cannot access their regular pharmacy to other parts of the system and these closures result in a sudden, unexpected and unnecessary increase in workloads in neighboring pharmacies, NHS-24, GP surgeries, social services, A &E and all other NHS after-hours services; With NHS Scotland recovering from Covid-19 all these services are already overbooked and it is vital that pharmacies are not allowed to close if these are to be protected.

“If a pharmacy business decides to close, its government funding will not be affected. The Scottish Pharmacy Contract does not allow health authorities to recover monies paid for services not rendered.

“These decisions are often not made locally, but by the UK-based headquarters, with the only possible justification being to reduce costs and improve profitability. Closing on Saturdays saves the owner an estimated 8 to 17 percent in labor costs alone.”

A letter from NHS Lothian’s Associate Director of Pharmacy, Mr Stephen McBurney, said unplanned pharmacy closures are having “a significant impact 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 provide the terms and services of the agreements made with NHS boards to provide pharmaceutical services”.

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