Boots proposes practice closures in the wake of COVID-19

Up to 48 Boots Opticians stores could close as the company launches a consultation for a transformation plan in response to the impact of coronavirus

Boots

Boots UK has launched a consultation process for a restructuring across its head office, store teams and Boots Opticians teams as the company aims to “mitigate the significant impact” that COVID-19 has had on the business.

The consultation includes proposals to cut up to 4000 jobs, as well as the closure of 48 Boots Opticians stores.

In a statement announcing the plans, the company explained that though a selection of stores have remained open throughout lockdown to provide pharmaceutical and healthcare services, with “dramatically reduced” footfall in the height of the lockdown and key revenue-driving parts of the business closed, retail sales have been affected.

More than 100 of the larger stores in locations such as city centres, stations and airports were closed, along with “the majority” of Boots Opticians practices, excepting some delivering essential and emergency care during the lockdown.

The company suggested these factors combined to impact retail sales, seeing a reduction of 72% for Boots Opticians and 48% for Boots UK in the third quarter, compared to last year.

The consultation process will consider “significant restructuring” across head office, store teams and Boots Opticians teams, which the company says could result in a reduction of the workforce by 7% and the closure of nearly 50 optical stores.

While restrictions are being lifted gradually in the UK, the company said that “with an uncertain economic outlook, it is anticipated that the High Street will take considerable time to recover.”

Managing director for Boots UK, Sebastian James, said the proposals are “decisive actions to accelerate our Transformation Plan” which would allow the company to continue its “vital role” in the UK health system and ensure profitable long-term growth.

Recognising the work of Boots colleagues through the lockdown period, he continued: “We recognise that today’s proposals will be very difficult for the remarkable people who make up the heart of our business, and we will do everything in our power to provide the fullest support during this time.”

The AOP’s head of employment, Liz Stephenson, called the news “distressing” for members employed by Boots UK.

“Throughout the pandemic optometrists and optical practices have been placed in increasingly difficult circumstances by slow decision making by the authorities,” Ms Stephenson commented. She added, “We are concerned that a company the size of Boots has reached this decision, and in particular that it has taken it so early, before the future landscape has taken shape.”

Ms Stephenson also recognised the concern for wider communities who may be impacted by the closures, commenting: “Optometrists will rightly be concerned for their patients and the impact that these closures may have on eye health as well as the impact on them and their families.”

“The AOP will do all it can to assist its members once more details become available and will be publishing resources to assist members,” Ms Stephenson added.