Community pharmacies are at risk of going out of business because of planned cuts to funding, which could potentially pull the plug on a vital lifeline for many elderly and vulnerable patients, the Local Government Association (LGA) is warning.
The LGA, which represents more than 370 councils, says that a 6% reduction in the NHS budget for community pharmacy planned for 2016/17 - equating to a cash shortfall of some £170 million - could force many businesses across the country to close.
This could leave many isolated and vulnerable residents, particularly in deprived areas, struggling to access pharmacies for their potentially life-saving medicines, it argues, noting that for some people the local pharmacy is their only contact with a healthcare professional.
The government is currently consulting on plans to use clinical pharmacists in primary care settings such as GP practices, but the LGA instead envisages a much bigger role for community pharmacists in future, to help alleviate the growing pressures on hospitals and practices.
Councils believe that local pharmacies should be expanded within their communities, providing important public health services such as health checks, smoking cessation, sexual health, screening and immunisations, in addition to dispensing and selling medicines.
"Maintaining community pharmacies is crucial to keeping older and frail people independent. They need to be at the heart of communities, close to where people shop, work and go about their daily lives, rather than the heart of the NHS,” said Izzi Seccombe, LGA Community Wellbeing spokeswoman.
Calling for additional investment she stressed: “Being at the heart of communities means pharmacies see people in every state of health and are ideally placed to play a central role in the prevention of illness, which can reduce costs and pressures on the NHS and adult social care”.