Small pharmacies across the north west could be forced to close because of government cuts, Labour has claimed.
It said 460 community pharmacies could shut up shop, including 21 in Blackpool, Cleveleys, Fylde and Wyre, as NHS funding is reduced by £113 million from December 1 – some 12 per cent of their budget.
In April next year, funding will be slashed by another £208 million, meaning a further budget cut of 3.4 per cent.
Government minister David Mowat said he doesn’t know how many will close, but said it is possible none will.
“The average operating margin that the pharmacy makes is 15 per cent,” he said.
“That is after salaries and rent. The cuts that we are making, or the efficiencies we are asking for, are significantly lower than that.
“Of course there is no such thing as an average pharmacy, which is why I cannot guarantee there will be no changes.
“What I can say is that, if there are mergers and if there is some consolidation, that demand does not go away – it goes to the other pharmacies.
“To say those pharmacies will be put under more pressure is plain wrong. What we are doing is building an industry that is fit for the future, is modern, and is adding value in a way it has not been able to do in the past.”
Pharmacists in Blackpool are being relied upon to take the pressure off GPs by handing out treatment and advice for minor ailments, and Labour’s shadow health minister, Burnley MP Julie Cooper, said: “Far from being a costly drain on NHS resources, community pharmacies satisfy a growing demand for service.
“When they close, and they will if the government persists with its cuts, this demand will not just disappear.
“Some patients will pack out their GP surgery and others will head straight to A&E.”