The number of pharmacies in Belgium is declining steadily according to figures from the Association pharmaceutique belge (APB), the national federation of independent pharmacies. Numbers peaked in 1999, with 5,277 pharmacies across the country, but have been declining ever since.
A moratorium on opening new pharmacies was introduced that year and is set to run until the end of 2019. Mergers and closures have gradually reduced the number of establishments, so that in May this year there were just 4,942 pharmacies across the whole country, the same level as 1975.
According to La Libre Belgique, which examined the figures in some depth, opinion is split over the seriousness of the situation. For the Syndicat des indépendants, a union representing independent pharmacists, competition from chain pharmacies is putting profit ahead of the local, personalised service its members provide.
But the ABP is not overly concerned, stating that the Belgian population is still well-served by European standards. It blames the decline on economic pressures, with costs increasing ahead of income.
“When young people take over a small pharmacy there is not enough turnover,” said Alain Chaspierre, a spokesman for the APB, in La Libre. “Banks are also more cautious and reluctant to finance a purchase, so we see closures rather than businesses changing hands. Or pharmacies are bought to be closed or integrated into a larger network.”
Source: ABP, La Libre Belgique