Pharmacies will get more government funding – but only if they provide more services, Matt Hancock has said.
The Health Secretary is under pressure to save thousands of local chemists, after the Mirror revealed almost three quarters were at risk of closure.
Mr Hancock told LBC Radio he was a “massive, massive fan” of pharmacists, describing them as the “front door of the NHS in our community”.
Pharmacies receive some £2.6bn from the NHS budget – but that figure has already been slashed by £200m since 2016.
A damning report published last week found as many as 6,500 family-owned chemists across England could have to close their doors in the next four years.
The study by accountancy firm Ernst and Young (EY) predicted 72% of independent chemists would be losing money within four years if things go on as they are.
But Mr Hancock indicated there would be no increase in the basic rate paid from the NHS budget to Pharmacies.
Instead, he suggested chemists could be paid more to provide additional services, like testing and flu vaccinations.
He said: “Within the NHS budget I want to drive more money towards pharmacy.
“The NHS Budget is going up and I want to do a deal with pharmacies where we offer more services to be delivered in pharmacies and we pay them more for it.”
NHS funding makes up around 87% of revenues received by pharmacy services in the UK, with other income coming from over-the-counter sales and services commissioned by local councils.
Celebrity doctors including Hilary Jones and Ranj Singh have backed the Mirror’s campaign to save family chemists.
Good Morning Britain’s Dr Hilary said: “It would be a tragedy if we lost independent pharmacies.”
He said family pharmacies have become a “lifeline” during the Covid-19 crisis, and should now be handed more government cash to survive.
Dr Ranj added: “The idea we could lose so many local, family-run pharmacies is heartbreaking.
“It was my local pharmacist who suggested I should become a doctor. Growing up I used to pop into the local shop and talk about what I wanted to do when I was older.
“I remember telling him I wanted to be a doctor but didn’t think I was clever enough but he told me to aim for the top.
“Local pharmacies have always been at the heart of the community. They give medical advice which takes so much pressure off GPs but they give so much more than that too. They are part of so many people’s everyday lives.”