Pharmacy sector trends

Pharmacist holding green medicine packet in pharmacy shop

(last updated July 2019)

What has been happening in the pharmacy sector

The pharmacy sector has seen a number of developments in recent years, including:

  • the de-restriction of many medicines which were previously only available on prescription - this trend is likely to continue
  • consumers' increasing pre-occupation with health and beauty matters
  • the spread of national retail pharmacy chains
  • the entry of the supermarkets into health care and beauty products retailing and the introduction of supermarket-based pharmacies
  • increasing competition from drug stores, particularly those which have obtained a pharmacy licence
  • the abolition of resale price maintenance on over the counter medicines
  • the re-shaping of the NHS and the increasing importance of the pharmacist's role in providing health care to patients
  • the development and growth of online pharmacy services
  • the reform of the control of entry regulations - this may increase competition
  • the introduction of a revised contractual framework for community pharmacists in England and Wales, from April 2005 (2006 in Scotland). A new contract is being negotiated in Northern Ireland
  • measures to allow pharmacists to act as 'supplementary prescribers'
  • the establishment of a new regulator for the profession - the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) - from September 2010
  • NHS funding cuts during the late 2000s and well into the 2010s which has affected pharmacists' NHS income
  • shortages of prescription drugs - this has created problems for pharmacists
  • the finding by the Court of Appeal in 2018 that the reduction in funding imposed on community pharmacies in October 2016 was lawful
  • in 2018 the start of negotiations on a new pharmacy contract intended to reward community pharmacies for providing patient care and services, including the dispensing of medicines, so that pharmacies can offer more patient care, particularly to those with long-tem conditions

The number of prescriptions dispensed is forecast to continue to grow and, in the long term, the market for health and beauty products also appears strong. However, the economic downturn during the late 2000s and early 2010s did affect demand for these products. Furthermore, small independent pharmacists face strong competition, both on NHS work and for retail sales of health and beauty products, baby products and so on. So it's essential that your pharmacy will be able to attract enough customers. One of the pharmacist's great strengths is being able to offer expert guidance and advice to patients and this service can be built on to establish a loyal customer base. An ageing population and continuing pressure to expand the pharmacist's role in the provision of primary healthcare means that demand for health-related services is likely to grow. Bear in mind though that the continuing squeeze on healthcare budgets means that there will be little extra cash available to fund these.

Just as the earlier economic downturn affected demand for health and beauty products during the late 2000s and early 2010s, it is to be expected that the poor performance of the economy following the Brexit vote in June 2016 will have a similar effect, made worse by the fall in the value of the pound increasing the cost of imported products. The economy continued to suffer from low growth in 2017 and 2018 and little change is forecast for the foreseeable future.

Keeping up to date with developments

Joining a trade association is an excellent way of keeping up to date with developments in your industry.

The interests of the pharmacy sector are represented by a number of bodies, including the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) and the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC). Contact the NPA at Mallinson House, 38 St Peter's St, St Albans, Herts AL1 3NP and the PSNC at 14 Hosier Lane, London EC1A 9LQ. In Scotland, Community Pharmacy Scotland represents the interests of community pharmacies. Community Pharmacy Wales and Community Pharmacy NI have the same role in Wales and Northern Ireland. The Ulster Chemists' Association promotes the professional and business interests of community pharmacists in Northern Ireland.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) is the professional body for pharmacists in England, Scotland and Wales. The RPS is responsible for maintaining professional standards. Their address is 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1AW. You can find details of the Scottish and Welsh offices on the RPS website. PJ Online is the online version of the official journal of the RPS, The Pharmaceutical Journal. The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) is the regulator for pharmacists in Great Britain, who must register with the GPhC in order to practise. The GPhC is based at 25 Canada Square, London EC14 5LQ. Pharmacists in Northern Ireland are regulated by the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland (PSNI). Contact the PSNI at 73 University Street, Belfast BT7 1HL.

Subscribing to an industry journal is another good way of staying up to date. There are a number of journals targeted at pharmacists, including Chemist and Druggist, published by UBM EMEA. The address is 240 Blackfriars Road, London SE1 8BF.

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