In April, retail giant Asda launched its online prescription service, marking a major milestone and “first” for a supermarket in the UK.

With the move rolled out across the “big four” supermarket chain’s 232 stores, the age of supermarket-based pharmacies may have arrived. Subsequently, we may see global retail leaders provide patients with prescriptions as they do their grocery shopping.

Since 2021, there have been several reports of rising supply problems affecting medicines in the UK. Media attention on the UK’s shortage of numerous prescription medications—dubbed the ‘new normal’— including those for diabetes, epilepsy, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and hormone replacement therapy (HRT), has brought the issue front-of-centre in recent months. Last month, the UK Parliament also released a research briefing on medicine shortages.

On 15 May, The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) warned that pharmacy closures in England were “skyrocketing” following its analysis of UK National Health Services (NHS) data. The findings revealed the detrimental impact of insufficient funding and increasing costs was behind “the fastest rate of closures in decades”.

Entering 232 branches of the retail chain’s stores, Asda Online Pharmacy comes after the mass closures of traditional healthcare pharmacies. In 2023, 403 chemists closed nationwide, nearly five times higher than those shutting in 2022.

The latest closure figures were “absolutely shocking and distressing”, said Paul Rees, Chief Executive of NPA. Citing NHS Business Services Authority figures, the NPA reported 177 pharmacies closed between January and April 2024 compared with 116 during the same period in 2023. “This is the equivalent to 10 local pharmacies closing their doors every week so far this year,” the NPA said.

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In a nod to the need for other pharmacies to emerge to fill the nationwide healthcare services gap, the UK Clinical Pharmacy Association (CPA) said we may see an increase in demand for help amid other local health services. “We urgently need a funding uplift for pharmacies before it is too late for even more patients,” Janet Morrison, Chief Executive of Community Pharmacy England, said in a statement released by the organisation.  

At the same time, Asda also shut down seven in-store pharmacies in 2023. The retail giant’s move to its digital prescription service also comes following Lloyds Pharmacy’s closure of 237 UK branches based in Sainsbury’s stores in 2023. The nationwide pharmacy stated that “changing market conditions” were responsible for the closures.

Developing a supermarket-based pharmacy

In a pilot program launched in April, Asda partnered with Pharmacy2U, the largest NHS-approved online pharmacy in the UK, to launch Asda Online Pharmacy, an electronic prescription service. The pilot was rolled out in 50 stores across eight regions in the UK.

“The online prescription service was developed to be convenient and easy to use,” Elliott Lancaster, Senior Press Officer of Corporate Affairs at Asda, told Pharmaceutical Technology on the research and development (R&D) process behind its online pharmacy.

“We started by identifying features like 24/7 online ordering, automatic reminders to reorder, and the convenience of picking up prescriptions at any Asda pharmacy or having them delivered for free,” Lancaster shares. “Our development process included designing a user-friendly platform, ensuring all services were managed by a qualified pharmacist and tested thoroughly to guarantee reliability,” adds Lancaster.

The collaboration comes after Asda and Pharmacy2U first teamed up in 2023 to launch their Covid-19 and flu vaccination programmes in some Asda Stores.

Logistics behind Asda’s online prescription service

Asda Online Pharmacy promises a compelling user experience by prioritising a simple and intuitive customer journey. The platform enables users to sign up online and add repeat medication to the retail platform’s basket.

New patients can register an account by visiting After registering and being accepted as new pharmacy patients, users can order home-delivery prescriptions and track their orders.

Once a prescription order has been received, a doctor or a general practitioner (GP) approves the prescription before a qualified pharmacist checks and prepares the medication. The prescription is ready for customers to collect in-store or can be delivered at no additional cost.

Following registration and placing their initial prescription order, Asda will remind patients of any repeat prescriptions ten days before they are due. The supermarket has said most of these orders take three to five working days to process, though it recommends putting in a prescription order ten days in advance.

In 2021, Pharmacy2U opened its new UK dispensing facility, increasing its capabilities to handle over 270,000 prescriptions monthly. The NHS-approved online pharmacy partnered with Royal Mail in 2022 to extend its free home delivery prescription service to more patients.

In 2023, the number of patients using Pharmacy2U exceeded 750,000. 

As part of its next phase, Asda will also introduce a click-and-collect option for consumers to pick up their prescriptions from one of Asda’s 232 pharmacy locations.

Increasing access to medications

Demand for home delivery of repeat prescriptions significantly spiked during the national lockdown in 2020, and Pharmacy2U states that prescription deliveries rose by 90% from the previous year. The confluence of increasing pressures from the Covid-19 pandemic, a lack of healthcare funding resulting in pharmacy closures and medication shortages hit patients hard.

“We know how important it is for families to be able to simply access their repeat prescriptions without having to worry. This expansion ensures greater convenience for our patients, who can now easily access these services online,” Faisal Tuddy, Head of Pharmacy & Superintendent Pharmacist at Asda Pharmacy, said.

“Supermarkets play a huge role in daily life, making this a natural yet exciting next step for patients,” said Kevin Heath, CEO of Pharmacy2U.

With Asda Online Pharmacy stocking and prescribing specialised drugs like weight-loss medications and those for psychiatric conditions, which have been difficult to obtain, the supermarket-pharmacy model may provide patients with an accessible alternative to the traditional but increasingly cumbersome pharmacy route.  “There are no restrictions around controlled drugs or fridge items,” confirms Lancaster. “All items are available to be fulfilled for collection and home delivery [and] a GP will approve the request if it’s a medication on repeat,” Lancaster details.