We hear that Lloyd’s Pharmacy here is being taken over by Lunts. Lunts is a West Midlands pharmacy group. It has local pharmacies in Shrewsbury, Pontesbury, Highley and Craven Arms. I have only occasionally used one of the Shrewsbury stores which I found to be well stocked and efficient.
Change of ownership, franchising or rebranding is not unusual in the pharmacy industry. Brown & Francis in the Bull Ring was part of the Murray Group and is now part of the Peak Pharmacy group of independent pharmacies.
The news about Lunts prompted me to have a look at the data on pharmacies in Ludlow and some of the data is surprising.
Getting a prescription in town often takes longer than before and we have seen unpredictable last minute closures of pharmacies due to a shortage of pharmacists. Despite the additional demand for services, there has been no increase in government funding for the pharmacy network since 2014. There have been cuts of around £200 million in the NHS England pharmacy budget since 2016.
Tracey Huffer says:
“We know that out pharmacies have been under strain since before the pandemic. The pharmacy network is now creaking at the seams with problems in the supply chain for medicines and a national shortage of pharmacists. It can be difficult to attract locum pharmacists to Ludlow. That creates more work for already stretched GP practices. People get stressed when they can’t get their medication and some patients will become more ill because the drugs and treatments they use are not available in a timely fashion.
“The staff in our pharmacies work very hard and they are often rushed off their feet to get prescriptions ready for customers. Some people have taken out their frustration on pharmacy staff. That’s not right. They are doing their best under a lot of pressure and I would plea that people have patience.”
I had no clue about how many prescriptions are issued in Ludlow until I started writing this article. Our three pharmacies handle around 23,000 prescriptions a month. That’s a lot of business and it can show in the queues for the prescription counter and the frequent need for our pharmacies to order extra stock, especially for items not commonly requested. To some extent, that’s small town life. We don’t have the big pharmacies in Ludlow that exist in major towns and cities. But then, our local pharmacies know many of their customers and that helps. Our pharmacies also provide advice and support, vaccinations and much more.
Boots, though it has suffered from closures, has maintained a steady throughput over the last 18 months of just under 10,000 prescriptions a month. The number of prescriptions issued by Brown and Francis and by Lloyds pharmacies has varied much more month on month, perhaps the result of the temporary closures we have been experiencing.
Many people now order online. I can’t get hold of data on that for Ludlow but Pharmacy2U and Lloydsdirect dealt with nearly 2.4m prescriptions in England in August this year.
The size of the NHS operation is extraordinary and the number of prescriptions issued is mindboggling. The number of prescription items dispensed in the community in England was 1.14 billion in 2021/22; a 2.58% increase of 28.7 million items on the year before. This huge number, presciptions costing around £9.28 on average and long term underfunding is why our pharmacies are so busy and why you sometimes have to stand in a queue or have to return, sometimes return again, to get a prescription. As Tracey says, it’s not the fault of the staff who work so hard.