Newcastle pharmacy fury over 'completely unacceptable' queues following closure of five Boots chemists in 12 months

Newcastle’s council leader has raged against pharmacy closures that it is claimed have left elderly people queuing for more than two hours to collect their prescription.

Nick Kemp fumed this week about the loss of a series of Boots pharmacies across the city over the last 12 months and the impact on chronically ill residents. The chain has recently shut down its branches in Jesmond, Byker, Cruddas Park, Kenton, and Heaton.

Coun Kemp told city health leaders on Wednesday that the series of closures had resulted in “completely unacceptable” problems in the east end of Newcastle, claiming that waiting times at the remaining Asda Pharmacy in Byker were reportedly “two and a half hours” as a result.

The Labour leader said at a meeting of Newcastle’s Health and Wellbeing Board that he had written to Boots to complain about the situation, but that the health and beauty giant had insisted that there would not be “any challenges” resulting from the closures. He said: “I think the stark reality of what is happening is not borne out by the responses from the pharmacies.”

Coun Kemp added: “We are seeing the real life experience currently is incredible delays for people who are chronically ill and financially challenged, to a point where they are being expected to stand in a queue at the far end of a supermarket being told they will be there for beyond an hour at the very minimum. This is the reality for Newcastle.”

The board agreed to officially declare a gap in pharmacy provision in the Heaton, Kenton, and Cruddas Park areas – with concerns that communities in the latter two in particular have high levels of deprivation, disabilities, and poor access to public transport. Karen Kilgour, the council’s deputy leader, added: “It is of great concern and is causing a great deal of upset and concern in the local community to see elderly people having to travel quite some distance now.”

Wednesday’s meeting heard from an NHS official and testimony from independent representative body Community Pharmacy North East on the major financial challenges facing local pharmacy contractors. 34 pharmacies across the North East and North Cumbria were shut down in 2023/24, six in Newcastle, with the biggest decline in the region’s most deprived communities.

Boots Pharmacy, Kenton Retail Park on Halewood Avenue.
The former Kenton Boots has shut -Credit:Newcastle Chronicle

Kenneth Youngman, of the North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care Board, said that many remaining sites had reduced their opening hours from 100 to 72 per week to create a “much more sustainable business model”. He also expressed hope for the future of the Kenton and Heaton ex-Boots sites, saying that a combined 17 applications had been received to reopen them – though that process is expected to take several months.

The board was told that more closures are expected, however, with reports that one pharmacy contractor had maxed out their credit cards and sold their house to help keep their business afloat and that another was putting £10,000 of their own money per month into the pharmacy. Mr Youngman added: “A lot of providers are finding it really difficult with the cost of living crisis we have had, energy costs coming into the equation when you look at financial viability.”

Mandy Coppin, chief executive of young people’s charity Streetwise, said she was “really concerned” about the impact of long pharmacy queues on those directed to chemists for sexual health support and emergency contraception. She added: “When that becomes too difficult that will add to the highest rate of positive STIs in the country among 18 to 24-year-olds. There are huge consequences.”

Boots has been contacted for a response.