Lloyds Pharmacy is closing all 237 outlets in Sainsbury’s supermarkets over fears of insufficient government funding for the industry.
The group said it was making the closures – which are believed to affect around 2,000 jobs – “in response to changing market conditions”, adding that it was “currently investigating options for each branch”.
Kevin Birch, chief executive of Lloyds, said: “This decision has not been easy 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 reassure them that we are committed to providing a smooth transition over the coming months.”
The company did not confirm the number of affected jobs. It told trade journal Chemist+Druggist: “Lloyds Pharmacy is committed to helping patients find an appropriate alternative treatment.”
Sainsbury’s confirmed the closures would take place over the coming months and said it would “operate with [Lloyds] to ensure customers are clear about how they can access an alternative pharmacy to meet their needs”.
The closures come around seven years after the supermarket sold the then 281-store pharmacy business to Celesio, the owner of Lloyds Pharmacy, for £125m. The pharmacy chain was last year bought by the investment company Aurelius, which also recently acquired the sports fashion retailer Footasylum.
While health and beauty sales are expected to remain strong, pharmacies, like other retailers, have faced rising costs and difficulty finding staff.
Nigel Swift, deputy chief executive of Phoenix UK, which owns pharmacy groups Numark and Rowlands, said the Lloyds closure 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 pharmacies in England as a result of inadequate government funding. Since the inception of the pharmacy contract, there has been a massive cut in real 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 overburdened nearby pharmacies and dilute patient access to vital health services, particularly in vulnerable communities.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Community pharmacies play an important role in our healthcare system and we support them with £2.6 billion a year. On top of this, we have announced a further £100m investment in the sector to help with support services.”
They added that approximately 80% of people live within 20 minutes of a community pharmacy.