A County Durham pharmacy has been forced to use credit cards and an overdraft to buy in drugs amid a national funding 'emergency'.

Pharmacies across the region joined a day of protest on Thursday (June 20) to highlight funding pressures amid warnings more will be forced to shut down without major intervention from the next government.

The “unprecedented” mass action saw pharmacies nationwide taking measures such as turning out their lights and blacking out windows to highlight the funding pressures they are under.

According to the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), around 1,400 pharmacies have closed in England in the past 10 years – with 10 currently shutting down each week. The NPA says pharmacies typically only receive enough NHS funding to cover the first three weeks of the month and has pleaded with the parties contesting the general election to pledge to deliver the funding needed to keep them afloat.

Kim Gamble, who runs two pharmacies in Pelton Fell and Great Lumley, near Chester-le-Street, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service she had been forced to use credit cards and an overdraft to prop up her businesses.

She said: “With the way things are at the moment, cash flow is very difficult to manage. I am having to pay for our drugs using credit and overdraft facilities.

“That incurs interest of hundreds of pounds per month, which could be money that I use to put food in my family’s fridge. 

“It is so frustrating and is just wasted money. Pharmacists should not have to go into their overdraft to fund the NHS.

“Through Covid, we never closed, we were there for our patients… I thought we proved our worth and would be invested in after that.”

Mrs Gamble said her staff wore black, turned out shop lights, and stood outside on Thursday asking residents to sign a petition backing the NPA campaign.

She told the LDRS she felt much of the public was “not aware of the seriousness of the situation” and that pharmacists were leaving the profession because of the stresses of the funding shortage and growing patient numbers.

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Tony Schofield, who runs a number of pharmacies on Tyneside, added: “If the Department of Health does not fund us properly then there will be an escalation in the sort of action we are taking. This is the first time ever that pharmacies have involved themselves in a day of protest – it is significant.”

Mr Schofield spoke out recently to plead for more funding from the government.

That followed complaints that the closure of a number of Boots branches across Newcastle, with five shut within 12 months, had put major pressure on the city’s remaining pharmacies and led to long queues to collect prescriptions.