Opening hours (including unplanned temporary closures)

Published on: 11th July 2013 | Updated on: 20th May 2024

Pharmacy opening hours are part of pharmacies’ Terms of Service for providing NHS pharmaceutical services.

Most pharmacies must open for 40 core contractual hours (this includes Distance Selling Premises (DSP) pharmacies).

Some pharmacies must open between 72-100 core contractual hours (called 100-hour pharmacies for those that have opened under the former exemption from the control of entry test).

All pharmacies may open for additional supplementary hours.

Pharmacies are not required to open (to provide core contractual hours) on, for example, Bank holidays but some may be directed to provide Bank holiday opening hours.

On occasion, pharmacies may have to close. This may be a planned temporary closure, for example, for the refurbishment of the premises, or an unplanned temporary closure, if, for example, that morning the pharmacist reports they are ill and unable to work.

Temporary pharmacy Closures

It is a Terms of Service requirement for each NHS community pharmacy owner to have a business continuity plan for a temporary unplanned closure due to illness or other reasons beyond their control, and to action this plan when necessary. For more information see below.


Click on a heading below for more information.

Pharmacy opening hours

NHS England has overall responsibility for administering opening hours for pharmacies, since 2023 this responsibility has been delegated to the Integrated Care Boards (ICBs).

A pharmacy normally has 40 core contractual hours (or 100 for those that have opened under the former exemption from the control of entry test), which cannot be amended without the consent of NHS England, together with supplementary hours, which are any the additional opening hours, which can be amended by the pharmacy subject to giving five weeks notice (or less if an ICB consents). A pharmacy may also have more than 40 core hours where it has made an application based on that higher number, and NHS England (or the ICB) agreed to that application, in this case, the pharmacy cannot amend these hours without the consent of the ICB.

There is also a provision which allows a pharmacy to apply to open for less than 40 hours, but if an ICB does grant such an application, it can specify which opening hours the pharmacy must open.

The Terms of Service require every pharmacy to send a return to the ICB on request, specifying the opening hours (both core contractual and supplementary hours). An ICB may use this power to request a return if there is any doubt about the actual opening hours.

In addition to the above, an ICB can commission an out-of-hours Enhanced service. This service may operate under arrangements similar to the former rota arrangements throughout the year or could be limited for example to public holidays. For many pharmacies, participation in such arrangements is voluntary, but those pharmacies which opened under the exemptions for 100-hour pharmacies, those in approved large retail areas, and those in one-stop primary care centres may have been required by the terms of their application, to provide any Advanced or Enhanced Services that were agreed during the course of the application where an ICB commissions the service.

As a fall back position, if the needs of people in the area are not met, and no pharmacies are able or willing to participate in an out of hours Enhanced service, an ICB has the power to issue a direction requiring the pharmacy to open, but must if doing so ensure the pharmacy receives reasonable remuneration. The process of issuing such a direction begins with discussions with the LPC and the affected pharmacies must be contacted by the ICB and the proposals outlined so that the pharmacy owner can make representations. There are rights of appeal against ICBs decisions to issue such directions, and the direction would be valid only if the statutory procedure is followed. If you need advice on such a direction, consult your LPC (which the ICB is required to consult before issuing such directions).

Changes to core contractual hours

Pharmacy owners wishing to amend the distribution of their core contractual hours must apply to the ICB.

NHS England has published template forms (see Chapter 36, Annex 2 – Application form – application to change core opening hours) and a list of ICB email addresses

An ICB is required, by the Terms of Service, to consider and determine applications within 60 days, and changes, where approved, can be implemented not earlier than 30 days after the approval has been received. Because requests to amend core contractual hours are ‘applications’ ICBs could refuse so an unsuccessful application may result in an appeal.

The success of an application will depend on many factors, and pharmacists making applications should ensure they provide good evidence to show you are able:

  • to maintain the existing level of NHS pharmacy provision; or
  • to maintain a sustainable level of adequate NHS pharmacy provision where maintaining the existing level of provision is either unnecessary or not realistically achievable.

Changes to the local surgery hours, and the opening or closures of neighbouring pharmacies, are factors that may also be taken into account, but to maximise the chance of success in the application, provide as much factual information as possible about the needs of the patients – patient surveys, records of levels of use (prescriptions and requests for advice / OTC medicines sales) may help.

Recent appeal cases (which can be found on the Primary Care Appeals decisions website) have shown that evidence is required to show how NHS pharmacy provision can be maintained if the opening hours are changed at the pharmacy within the application. Some key points of evidence to consider are the distance from the pharmacy to other pharmacies, how patients could travel to nearby pharmacies, the opening hours of the nearby pharmacies and the services those pharmacies offer. To support this evidence applicants could provide survey data for the hours they wish to change which shows what patients are accessing the pharmacy for and which mode of transport they use.

Providing evidence to show that maintaining the existing level of provision is not realistically achievable is more problematic for applicants with the appeals decsions noting ‘this sets a fairly high bar as to the level of difficultly that the Applicant must find themselves in’. Therefore if an application is relying on this provision they must show sufficient evidence to indicate that the economic and practical viability of the current opening hours has been compromised.

If an application is not granted the applicant has the right to appeal the decision. The Primary Care Appeals service (formerly the Family Health Services Appeal Unit), a part of NHS Resolution, could confirm the decision of the ICB or set aside the decision and grant the application. It is important to note that until the ICB (or on appeal to the Primary Care Appeals) has granted an application, all pharmacies are required by the Terms of Service to open for their previously stated core contractual hours.

If an application, or subsequent appeal, is successful and the pharmacy is allowed to amend their core opening hours pharmacy owners will need to update their opening hours in their NHS website profile and their Directory of Services (DoS) profile using the NHS Profile Manager tool, to reflect their changed opening hours.

Changes to supplementary hours

Pharmacy owners who want to change their supplementary opening hours are required by their terms of service to notify the relevant ICB. If a pharmacy owner wants to:

  • increase supplementary opening hours at the pharmacy, this can be done with no notice – but notification of the change must still be given to NHS England.
  • decrease supplementary opening hours at the pharmacy, at least five weeks’ notice must be given to NHS England prior to implementing the change.

Pharmacy owners are encouraged to give the ICB as much notice of changes as they can of any changes to supplementary opening hours.

NHS England published a template notification form (see Chapter 36, Annex 9 – Notification of changes to supplementary opening hours) for this purpose and a list of ICB email addresses.

The pharmacy has the right to amend supplementary opening hours so long as the required notice/notification is given. This is not an application process and there is no requirement for an ICB to approve or grant changes to supplementary opening hours.

Using the NHS Profile Manager tool, pharmacy owners will need to update their opening hours in their NHS website profile and their Directory of Services (DoS) profile, to reflect their changed opening hours.

*Prior to October 2022 contractors were required to give a three-month notice period. See Amendment to notice periods required for changing supplementary hours.

Planned temporary closures

A pharmacy owner can apply to the ICB for permission to temporarily suspend the provision of pharmaceutical services (closure of the pharmacy), for example, to close for two or three days during a planned refit. If the ICB is satisfied that the circumstances are appropriate, and at least three months notice has been given, they may agree to the suspension of services (closure of the pharmacy). Unlike changes to core hours above, there is no requirement to ‘make up’ any hours during the week of the closure.

NHS England has published a template application form (see Pharmacy Manual Chapter 36, Annex 19 – Planned temporary suspension of services) and a list of ICB email addresses.

There is no obligation for ICBs to grant applications for temporary suspensions (closure of the pharmacy), so the pharmacy owner will need to satisfy the ICB that the circumstances of the request are appropriate. Unless  the ICB agrees, a pharmacy owner cannot plan to temporarily suspend services (close the pharmacy), although a pharmacy owner could change any supplementary hours, provided adequate notice is given – see above.

Unplanned temporary closures

Following changes to the NHS (Pharmaceutical and Local Pharmaceutical Services) Regulations 2013that were imposed in 2023, from 31st July 2023, it is a Terms of Service requirement for each NHS community pharmacy owner to have a business continuity plan for a temporary suspension of service (closure of the pharmacy) due to illness or other reason beyond their control, and to action this when necessary. More information on business continuity plans can be found on our Business Continuity Planning page.

According to the regulations, pharmacy owners must notify the ICB of any unplanned closures due to illness or another reason beyond the control of the contractor/pharmacy owner. Pharmacy owners will not be in breach of the Terms of Service if you:

  • notify your ICB (using the relevant email address on the pharmacy contract teams’ web page– doing so as soon as practicable and wherever possible before the start of the suspension/closure);
  • use all reasonable endeavours to implement your Business Continuity Plan for Temporary Suspensions; and
  • use all reasonable endeavours to resume the provision of pharmaceutical services as soon as is practicable.

We have put together a briefing and a template plan to help guide pharmacy owners through the process. This explains what is required in the plan, describes how and when to implement it, and outlines some additional considerations. This could be added as an annex to your pharmacy’s existing business continuity plan. A checklist has also been added, which may be used in the event of a temporary suspension.

Unplanned temporary suspension of services notification form – NHS England has updated this form to reflect the changes.

This emergency closure information sheet explains the contractual, IT and other actions needed if a contractor is faced with a risk of a short-term closure of their pharmacy because of COVID-19 or for another reason.

Bank holiday opening hours

A pharmacy must open to provide pharmaceutical services for its core contractual and supplementary hours each week. But, where the pharmacy would ordinarily be open on a day which is Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Christmas Day or a formally declared bank holiday, the hours that it would ordinarily be open, on those days, will be treated as having been open for the purpose of counting the core contractual hours that week. This means a pharmacy that has 8 core contractual hours on Monday to Friday, will, during the week leading up to Easter, be open for 8 hours on each of Monday to Thursday making 32 hours in total, and may close on Good Friday, because the 8 hours that the pharmacy is ordinarily open on a Friday are counted towards the 40 hours requirement, irrespective of whether the pharmacy is open. These are straightforward provisions, but the way that bank holidays are declared does cause some anomalies.

In England, the days that a pharmacy will not normally be required to open are:

  • New Year’s Day
  • Good Friday
  • Easter Sunday
  • Easter Monday
  • Early May Bank Holiday
  • Spring Bank Holiday
  • Summer Bank Holiday
  • Christmas Day
  • Boxing Day

On these days, the core contractual hours at the times at which it would have ordinarily been open are counted towards the core contractual requirement without the pharmacy having to open on those days and at those times, but the pharmacy may close.

The NHS Regulations provide that Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Christmas day are always treated in this way. But, for the other days, the status of the day depends on whether it has been formally declared as a bank holiday – or whether a substitute day has been introduced. Up to date information can be found on the Government’s business website.

Because these bank holidays may vary from year to year, pharmacies need to plan ahead and identify precisely which day is declared as the bank holiday. Where, for example New Year’s Day and Boxing Day fall at the weekend there may be substitute days declared, meaning that the pharmacy might have to open on the 26th December / 1st January where these fall on a weekend.

Community Pharmacy England Briefing 010/23: Pharmacy opening hours in 2024 and for the remainder of 2023 This Community Pharmacy England Briefing provides guidance for community pharmacy ownerss on the Terms of Service opening hours requirements around bank holidays for 2024 and for the remainder of 2023.

Notification of opening intentions on bank holidays

Contractors are encouraged to inform the ICB whether their premises will be open on Bank Holidays. This information is obviously of critical importance to the ICB in order that it is able to plan pharmacy provision during holiday periods. If the ICB is not able to determine the opening hours of pharmacies, with a high degree of certainty, its option may be to issue directions to one or more pharmacies, requiring them to open. This clearly is not in the best interests of pharmacies if there are other suitable pharmacies that would have been open – so Community Pharmacy England recommends that all pharmacies notify their intentions – and then open as they have notified.

NHS England has published a template application form (see Chapter 36, Annex 1 – Notification of opening hours on bank and public holidays) and a list of ICB email addresses.

Changes to opening hours prior to bank holidays

Community Pharmacy England would like to remind pharmacy owners that core contractual/supplementary hours can be changed by the application/notification to the ICB. For core opening hours 3 months should be allowed for the application, whereas for decreasing supplementary opening hours 5 weeks’ notice is required.

It is customary for some pharmacies to close early on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve, or other days on or adjacent to religious holidays but the Terms of Service require this to be planned, and notified to NHS England 5 weeks in advance if the hours that are affected by the early closure are supplementary hours, and subject to an application to change,  at least three months in advance if the hours are core contractual.  It is likely that applications to change core hours will be rejected unless the pharmacy owner demonstrates that they are able:

  • to maintain the existing level of NHS pharmacy provision; or
  • to maintain a sustainable level of adequate NHS pharmacy provision where maintaining the existing level of provision is either unnecessary or not realistically achievable.

FAQs

Q. Do lunchtimes count towards core hours?
A. If pharmaceutical services are not being provided during a lunch period, this period will not count towards the core contractual hours.

Q. What happens if I don’t wish to open for 40 hours a week?
A. Contractors need to apply to NHS England for consent to open for fewer than 40 hours. NHS England is required to consider the pharmaceutical needs in the area before determining whether to grant such an application. In addition, where NHS England does decide to grant consent to a contractor to open for fewer than 40 hours, it is able to direct which hours in the week the pharmacy must open. This may not necessarily be the hours chosen by the contractor, so contractors should consider carefully, whether to make such an application.

Q. What if the pharmacy cannot open for the required number of hours due to a planned event (e.g. an external training event)?
A. If there is a planned change of hours, then there would be a need to ensure the pharmacy is still open for the required number of hours in the week. NHS England should be given the three months’ notice about the change.

Q. What if the pharmacy cannot open for the required number of hours due to events beyond control of the pharmacy?
A. According to the regulations, contractors must notify NHS England of any unplanned closures for staff illness or other reasonable cause, defined as something that is beyond a contractor’s control. Pharmacy owners should make arrangements to notify the ICB, use all reasonable endeavours to implement their Business Continuity Plan for Temporary Suspensions, and use all reasonable endeavours to resume the provision of pharmaceutical services as soon as is practicable.

As long as a contractor complies with these requirements, they will not be in breach of the terms of service under the NHS Regulations.

Community Pharmacy England Briefing 023/23: Business Continuity Plan for Temporary Suspensions provides further information on what contractors should do in this circumstance.

Q. Can NHS England force me to open for extra hours over and above my core contractual hours?
A. Provided the pharmacy is opening for the minimum of 40 (or 100 or other core contractual) hours, NHS England is able to issue a direction to the pharmacy to open for longer hours, but only if it is satisfied that the pharmacy will receive reasonable payment. There is a right of appeal where NHS England directs a pharmacy to open for additional hours. Contractors are advised to contact their LPC if NHS England writes to suggest that it is intending to issue such a direction.

Q. Can NHS England refuse my application for amendment to my core contractual hours?
A. NHS England is able to refuse an application to amend the core contractual hours, subject to a right of appeal. The success of an application will depend on many factors, and pharmacists making applications should ensure they provide good evidence to show you are able:

  • to maintain the existing level of NHS pharmacy provision; or
  • to maintain a sustainable level of adequate NHS pharmacy provision where maintaining the existing level of provision is either unnecessary or not realistically achievable.

NHS England is not able to refuse to accept notification of amendment to hours that the pharmacy opens additional to the core contractual hours, although three months notice must be given.

Q. The pharmacy has notified NHS England as soon as possible that for a reason beyond the control of the contractor, we could not open for our full number of contracted hours during the week, can NHS England insist that that we ‘make up’ these hours?
A. Where there is a temporary interruption of services, and this is outside the control of the pharmacy, and the pharmacy notifies the ICB as soon as practical and uses all reasonable endeavours to implement their Business Continuity Plan for Temporary Suspensions and resume pharmaceutical services as soon as is practicable, there is no obligation to make up the hours.

Community Pharmacy England Briefing 023/23: Business Continuity Plan for Temporary Suspensions provides further information on what contractors should do in this circumstance.

Q. When does a week start and end when calculating the hours that a pharmacy is open?”
A. There is currently no interpretative provision in the pharmacy regulations. However, the guidance issued by NHS England regional offices is that the week begins at 00:00 on Monday and ends at 23:59 on Sunday.

Q. The local surgery has decided to extend its opening hours. Do I need to give three months notice before I increase my supplementary hours to provide cover for those extended hours?
A. No, changes were made to the regulations to allow pharmacy owners to increase their supplementary opening hours without a notice period (however, notification is still required), to decrease supplementary opening hours 5 weeks’ notice must be given.

Q. What if Boxing Day is on a Saturday or Sunday?

A. Contractors are reminded that if Boxing Day falls on a Saturday or Sunday it will be classed as a normal day for the purposes of community pharmacy opening hours. Therefore, pharmacies must open on the 26th December for any core and supplementary hours. The substitute bank holiday for Boxing Day is when contractors do not have to open.

Contractors do not have to open on days which are specifically mentioned in the relevant NHS Regulations (namely Christmas Day, Good Friday and Easter Sunday) or a day which has been specifically designated as a ‘bank holiday’, unless directed to open by NHS England.

If contractors want to reduce any supplementary hours, for example, to close early, they must give notice to NHS England at least three months in advance, unless NHS England agrees otherwise. So, the last day to give notice for 26th December, for any guaranteed reduction in supplementary hours, is on 26th September, and NHS England must receive the notification, for example, by email, on or before that date.

Community Pharmacy England resources

Briefing 023/23: Business Continuity Plan for Temporary Suspensions
This Briefing provides guidance for community pharmacy owners and their teams on the requirements for a Business Continuity Plan for Temporary Suspensions.

Briefing 010/23: Pharmacy opening hours in 2024 and for the remainder of 2023(new)
This Briefing provides guidance for community pharmacy contractors on the Terms of Service opening hours requirements around bank holidays for 2024 and for the remainder of 2023.

Briefing 024/22: Emergency closure checklist for community pharmacy
This Briefing  explains the contractual, IT and other actions needed if a contractor is faced with a risk of a short-term closure of their pharmacy because of  COVID-19 or for another reason.

Other resources

Latest Quality & Regulations news

View more Quality & Regulations newsSee all