Leading health organisations have warned that community pharmacy closures could place untenable burden on local GPs.
More than a quarter of people who would normally see their local pharmacy about common ailments will be forced to make a GP appointment if community pharmacies continue to close.
Amounting to 29% of patients, the research from YouGov, commissioned for Dispensing Health Equality, argues that this increase in GP appointment is unsustainable in any part of the country but particularly in areas short on GPs.
Furthermore, NHS research has shown that in some areas of high deprivation like Fleetwood in Lancashire, as many as four in five people will have to make GP appointments rather than see their pharmacist.
The research comes after the government indicated that its proposals will lead to up to one in four local pharmacies closing.
This will affect communities such as Fleetwood and Easington Lane, a former coal mining village where there is no GP surgery, and just one local pharmacy serving the needs of more than 2,000 people.
Dr Mark Spencer, a GP in Fleetwood Lancashire and co-chair of NHS Alliance said: “At a time when there is an entirely unacceptable widening gap in life expectancy between rich and poor, extreme pressure on GPs, and increasing public awareness of the role pharmacy is playing in delivering services to support public health, it would be catastrophic if the areas that most need it, are deprived of access to this crucial community asset. Easington Lane and Fleetwood are two cases in point.”
Research by Durham Universityhas shown that most people in England can get to a community pharmacy easily, providing the greatest access in deprived areas.
The report highlights the potential of such pharmacies to tackle some of society’s major public health concerns such as obesity, smoking and alcohol.
This, in turn, could facilitate closing the life expectancy gap between those living in affluent areas and those living in deprived ones, which extends to more than 30 years after the age of 60.
Professor Rob Darracott, chief executive of Pharmacy Voice said: “We should be outraged that there is now more than a 30-year life expectancy gap between our richest and poorest. And no general practice can afford to take on additional appointments to advise on common ailments that can be self-treated.
“People are increasingly aware of the role of local pharmacy plays in not just dispensing their medicines, but in dispensing vital health services.
“Advising and helping people to treat minor ailments is a starting point, but increasingly, pharmacy is playing a key role in helping people lead healthier lives through interventions like smoking cessation and weight management programmes.
“These are important stepping stones to increasing life expectancy in some of our most disadvantaged communities. Losing a local pharmacy in these areas is simply not an option.”