Pharmacy closures: where could be most affected?

The Department of Health’s recent announcements of changes community pharmacy funding have led to speculation about possible pharmacy closures. You can read about the proposed funding changes in our research briefing. Despite the speculation, it’s not known whether any pharmacies will actually close, or where any closures might take place.

However, we can gauge the impact of any possible closures can by asking a hypothetical question: which areas would be most affected if their nearest pharmacy closed? In particular: which areas would have their distance to a pharmacy increased the most by the closure of their nearest pharmacy? To reiterate – this is a hypothetical exercise as we don’t know whether any pharmacies will close. This analysis shows only which areas would be most vulnerable to the effects of any closure.

The numbers

In total, 1.3 million people – 1 in every 43 people in England – would see their distance to a pharmacy increase by more than 1 mile if their nearest pharmacy closed. Another way to look at it: there are 284 pharmacies which, if they closed, would cause some people to have their distance to a pharmacy increased by at least 1 mile. The breakdown of people is as follows:

If the nearest pharmacy closed 920,419 would have 1-2.5 miles added to their journey to their nearest pharmacy. 297,384 people would have between 2.5 and 5 miles added and 68,376 people would have more than 5 miles added.

 

8½ million people live in areas where the nearest pharmacy is eligible for the Pharmacy Access Scheme – these are excluded from the analysis on the assumption that the scheme would protect those pharmacies. Of the rest of England’s population, 45 million people would see their distance to a pharmacy increase by less than 1 mile if their nearest pharmacy closed, while 25.4 million of these (just under half of England’s population) would see the distance increase by less than half a mile.

The map below shows which areas in England would be affected (click map to view full size):

Map to show which areas in England would be most affected by the closure of their nearest pharmacy

The places

Looking at the map in more detail, the tables below show in which local authorities the most people would be affected.

920,419 people would see an increase of more than 1 mile but less than 2½ miles. 37% of these live in the 20 local authority districts shown in the table below. In terms of specific towns, those most affected in terms of number of people would be Tidworth (Wiltshire), Brightlingsea (Essex), and Werrington (Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire).[1]

 

 

297,384 people would see increases of more than 2½ miles but less than 5 miles. 61% of these live in the 20 local authority districts shown in the table below. In terms of specific towns, those most affected would be Thrapston (Northamptonshire), East Leake (Nottinghamshire) and Callington (Cornwall).


 

68,376 people would see increases of 5 miles or more – up to a maximum of 9 miles in Appleby-in-Westmorland.[2]   All of these people live in the following 17 local authority districts. In terms of specific towns, those most affected would be Market Rasen (Lincs), Harleston (Norfolk), and Brampton (Cumbria).

 

The details

This analysis involves measuring the distance between output area population-weighted centroids and the postcodes of pharmacies. Output areas are the smallest level of geography from the census. This analysis can’t capture the fact that in some larger output areas, different parts of the area might be closer to different pharmacies – but since most output areas are very small, this only affects a small proportion of cases.

Distances in this analysis are measured as the crow flies (i.e. the shortest distance between points), using the pharmacies’ postcodes. Increases in travel distance as a result of any pharmacy closures would, in almost all cases, be larger than those stated here, since it is rarely possible to travel between two points as the crow flies. A more sophisticated analysis would look at how travel times would be likely to increase, taking into account road networks.

Population figures used are from mid-2015.

The data is sourced from NHS Digital and the Department of Health. ONS geography data and population estimates are also used.

[1] The ‘number of people’ here, and in the tables below, counts only those living in areas that would see their distance increase by 1 to 2.5 miles – not the whole population of the towns/local authorities. It counts people of all ages.

[2] Excluding the Isles of Scilly, where the increase is up to 33 miles.

Picture credit: Chappel, Chemist by grassrootsgroundswellCreative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC by 2.0)