In February 2024, the Boots pharmacy at the heart of the Bournville estate in Weston, home to two of the most deprived postcodes in the UK is scheduled to close, fifty per cent of residents don’t drive and the next closest pharmacy is at capacity. Many will shrug this off, they’ve already moved to an online pharmacy or can drive to another. But many of our most vulnerable rely on the security and routine of this essential local service.

Digital by default, especially when driven by financial efficiencies rather than community health has its casualties, and the mass closure of community pharmacies, over 300 by Boots alone, across the country is unleashing a whole load more.

When on the Bournville estate collecting signatures for our petition to keep the pharmacy open I spoke to residents who felt utterly helpless and resigned to the worst outcomes.

One woman whose arthritis was so bad she couldn’t sign the petition herself (we have both online and paper versions for those without email) told me she had no idea, or plan, for how she would get her essential medication when Boots closed, she didn’t have a mobile phone and relied on the Healthy Living Centre to keep warm during the winter months so was living day to day.

Another woman with mobility issues told me about how she rarely left the very small area around the Healthy Living Centre and because of her anxiety, which she needed medication for, she’d be reliant on neighbours to fetch her prescription. She wasn’t physically of financially able to get to another pharmacy. While the National Data Bank is great, this woman had no idea how to access it and appeared utterly crushed when we tried to access it and it crashed time and again because my 4G signal was so bad on the estate.

Closed sign

These stories aren’t uncommon here and are replicated across the country, our community pharmacies are essential for the health of communities so why are we allowing them to close without any transition arrangements and digital support for the most vulnerable?

Not being able to access services online is a persistent issue amongst our most disadvantaged communities. Digital poverty, like other types of poverty, is complex and needs long-term, multi-agency solutions like those outlined in the Digital Poverty Alliance’s National Delivery Plan.

I know how good technology can be in tackling poverty and inequality, indeed, it’s why I work in tech policy for a charity, it’s about how we shape the future with enough humanity at its core that we enhance all our lives.

However, in the rush to digital-first, when public services are struggling to function, and the cost of living crisis continues to bite, we’re pushing many of our most disadvantaged, further into poverty and the casualties are mounting.

 

Written by Daniel Aldridge (He/Him), Head of Policy and Public Affairs at BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT