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Lloyds Pharmacy is closing all 237 of its outlets in Sainsbury’s supermarkets amid fears of insufficient government funding for the industry.
The group said it was making the closures – which are thought to affect about 2,000 jobs – “in response to changing market conditions”, adding it was “currently exploring options for each individual branch”.
Kevin Birch, the chief executive of Lloyds, said: “This decision has not been an easy one and we understand that our patients and customers may have questions about how the change will affect them. We would like to thank them for their continued support and assure them that we are committed to providing a smooth transition over the coming months.”
The company did not confirm the number of jobs affected. It told the trade journal Chemist+Druggist: “Lloyds Pharmacy is committed to helping patients easily find a suitable alternative provision.”
Sainsbury’s confirmed that the closures would take place over the coming months and said it would “work with [Lloyds] to ensure customers are clear on how they can access an alternative pharmacy provision to meet their needs”.
The closures come about seven years after the supermarket sold its then 281-store pharmacy business to Celesio, the owner of Lloyds Pharmacy, for £125m. The pharmacy chain was bought last year by the investment firm Aurelius, which also recently acquired the sports fashion retailer Footasylum.
While health and beauty sales are thought to remain strong, pharmacies, like other retailers, have faced rising costs and difficulties in finding staff.
Nigel Swift, the deputy managing director of Phoenix UK, which owns the Numark and Rowlands pharmacy groups, said the Lloyds closures had to be a wake-up call for the government.
He said: “This announcement is the clearest possible sign of the dire situation facing community pharmacy in England as a result of insufficient government funding. Since the start of the pharmacy contract there has been a massive cut in real-term funding, resulting in hundreds of closures.
“At a time when the NHS is in crisis, the community pharmacy network is needed more than ever before. These closures will put even more pressure on already overstretched nearby pharmacies and dilute patient access to essential healthcare services, particularly in deprived communities.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “Community pharmacies play a vital role in our healthcare system and we back them with £2.6bn a year. On top of this, we have announced a further £100m investment in the sector to help support services.”
They added that about 80% of people live within 20 minutes of a community pharmacy.