Christie & Co analyses UK pharmacy market in latest in-depth, data-led report
Specialist business property adviser, Christie & Co, has today launched its Pharmacy Market Review 2022 report, which analyses key trends in the pharmacy sector in 2021 and the first half of 2022; reviewing market composition, operational activity, employment challenges, key dispensing and services activity, online pharmacy platforms, and sector funding. It also includes publicly available data and proprietary data from key business intermediaries, including Locate a Locum.
Christie & Co reported positive market activity, with prices bouncing back from an almost static level in 2020 to a 4.3% increase in 2021, a trajectory that has continued in 2022 across all market areas.
Following Freedom of Information Requests sourced by Christie & Co, the General Pharmaceutical Council confirmed that 360 pharmacies were removed from the register over the course of the 12 months to March 2022. NHS Business Services Authority recorded 557 pharmacy ownership changes in the same period, although this will have included administrative changes, and will not solely be due to pharmacy sales.
The composition of the sector has remained broadly the same as previous years, albeit with a circa 2% reduction in contracts owned and operated by corporate or supermarket operators. As of 31 March 2022, there were 14,370 registered pharmacy premises across the UK; 3,560 of which are independently operated and 5,653 are under corporate and supermarket ownership. 1,298 of these are in Scotland, 526 in Northern Ireland, 730 in Wales, and 11,816 in England.
Over the last 12 months, the sector has experienced significant resourcing challenges which will inevitably impact wage cost margins. Analysing both valuation and transactional data for 2021/22, Christie & Co found:
Wages (including locum costs) have risen by 0.2%, wages (excluding locum costs) have risen by 0.5%, locum costs as a percentage of total wage costs have fallen by 2.9%, the EBITDA margin has risen by 1.7%, and Gross Profit margin has risen by 1.9%.
Resourcing in the sector remains challenging and has placed a huge strain on community pharmacies, as, increasingly, staff are being lured away. In May 2022, GP-based media outlet, Pulse, reported that, according to NHS Digital figures, which are based on data submitted by 84% of PCNs (Primary Care Networks), PCNs have hired 4,722 Pharmacists, and 16,780 staff have been hired with support from the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS) and are working in general practice. The most recruited-to role is Social Prescribers, followed by Care Coordinators and then Pharmacy Technicians at 1,364.
To fill the staffing gap, operators are turning to locum workers, the price of which is also on the rise. According to data supplied by Locate a Locum, which covers 30,000 locum pharmacist bookings across both independent and corporate settings, the average hourly rate as of July 2022 for locum cover across the UK was £37.49, an increase of £4.81 on the 12-month average it recorded in 2021. In England, hourly locum rates increased to circa £36.95, whereas in Wales and Scotland the rates increased to £37.93 and £48.86, respectively. This data shows not only the significant increases the sector is facing but also the considerable regional variations that exist.
Key dispensing & services activity
Dispensing activity for England across the year to March 2022 increased by 4.5% to an average of 7,765 items per month, reversing the decline witnessed in 2021.
All pharmacy settings saw improvements in dispensing numbers, with standard community settings seeing the highest increase of 4.2%, with the average moving to 7,173 items, albeit still below the combined average. The independent sector fared better than corporate pharmacy, with a combined average increase of 3.5% versus a 1.8% increase in corporate dispensing. Despite some improvement, integrated pharmacies remained the lowest at 1.9%, in part due to the continued restrictions on patient access.
Some corporates have implemented strategies to reduce reliance on delivered prescriptions and Monitored Dosage Systems activity. The struggles that corporates have had in keeping their doors open have been well-documented across trade media, more so than the independent sector. Inevitably, this will come at a cost, with patients moving to local independents offering a more consistent service
Online pharmacy platforms
Throughout the UK’s lockdowns, remote dispensing via online platforms, and the benefits that it brought both operators and patients, was invaluable, and dispensing numbers rose as a result. Of a group of seven operators sampled by Christie & Co, all but one showed continued online dispensing item growth, returning a combined average increase of 22% in the 12 months to June 2022.
Total items dispensed by key online pharmacy platform increased by 202% from 2020 to 2021, from 12.1 million to 24.5 million. There was a further 22% increase from 2021 to 2022, taking the total to 29.9 million.
Due to a stark increases in the cost living and the cost of finance across the UK, Christie Finance highlights rising pressure from lenders for borrowers to evidence that there is enough ‘proven’ profit to cover any finance loans once they have withdrawn what they need for themselves.
With a few key funders withdrawing from the pharmacy finance market in 2022, existing lenders are needed to fill this void. With ‘alternative’ and sometimes less experienced lenders, it has been harder for buyers to access the finance they require. However, there is no shortage of demand for pharmacies. Year to date, Christie Finance has witnessed a 35% increase in instructions, with keen buyers seeking support and guidance.
Tony Evans, head of pharmacy at Christie & Co, comments, “As we have emerged from the grips of the pandemic, the sector has continued to deliver its pivotal primary care role. Whilst there have been gains in dispensing volumes, the sector has also had to contend with increasing cost headwinds exemplified in supply and drug pricing issues, as well as staff resourcing issues alongside significant increases in locum costs.
“Nonetheless over the last year, we have witnessed many pharmacy contractors keen to expand their businesses both through acquisition as well as the development of additional services. As a result, the market has continued to see positive activity, something we reported in our Business Outlook 2022 publication. We are pleased to report that this trajectory has continued, mirroring that of the previous year, with appetite across all aspects of the market.”
To read Christie & Co’s Pharmacy Market Review 2022, visit: https://www.christie.com/news-resources/publications/pharmacy-market-review-2022/