A spate of pharmacy closures is having “devastating” consequences for some of Newcastle’s most vulnerable people, politicians have warned.
Councillors have hit out at a series of decisions from big names such as Boots and Lloyds to shut down sites around the city and across the country.
Members of Newcastle City Council heard last week how six of the city’s pharmacies had closed down permanently in the past two years and that three more were due to follow in a matter of just weeks.
Lib Dem councillor Doreen Huddart told colleagues how she had found herself in an hour-long queue for her prescription at a pharmacy that had become “overwhelmed” following the closure of a nearby Boots and could not cope with the demand.
She said at a full council meeting last week: “None of us know if it might be us or our families who need medication at some point and it is important that obtaining medication should not involve a trek for miles.”
Coun Huddart added: “That is something that is being repeated all over the city and it is not something we should be experiencing in this day and age.”
The city council resolved to write to the Government and the North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care Board over the problem, with Labour’s deputy council leader Karen Kilgour vowing to hold health bosses to account over what was being done to mitigate the impact of closures on communities.
Kenton councillor Stephen Lambert has been campaigning against the closure of his local Boots branch, which is expected to shut down in March as part of the brand’s decision to axe 300 stores nationwide.
He said that the loss would be “grim and grave news for the wider community” as it is vital both for people collecting their medication, who could be forced to travel up to two miles to find an alternative chemist and to the survival of surrounding businesses.
Heaton representative Clare Penny-Evans outlined how her area had been left reeling from the closure of both a Lloyds inside their Sainsbury’s supermarket and then by Boots on Chillingham Road.
She added: “It is devastating for quite a few residents. A local pharmacy is not just about picking up your prescription, it is about getting advice when you need it and when you potentially cannot get a doctor’s appointment because you have to ring up at ridiculous times to get one… and where you can just check in with people.
“When I was at the Boots pharmacy in Chillingham Road waiting for my prescription and the chemists were telling everyone about needing to move to the next chemist, it was clear that they had developed long-term relationships with the people collecting their prescriptions. They knew them by name and asked them stories about how their families were.
“Local pharmacies can often combat loneliness as well and really protect our residents in different ways.”
Liberal Democrat Ali Avaei, who is a pharmacist, said he had been particularly alarmed by the disproportionate loss of services in the east of Newcastle – with areas like Jesmond, Heaton and Byker the worst hit.
He warned that “not many pharmacies have funding in place beyond the next six months” and that a £645m investment announced by the Government last year had come as “too little, too late”.