In the midst of a measles outbreak, why is the Government overlooking community pharmacy yet again, asks Costanza Pearce
Last week, Boris Johnson called on healthcare teams to take ‘urgent action’ to boost the uptake of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.
The health secretary said the ‘whole health system will come together’ around a new vaccination strategy and it was announced that GPs can expect to receive a letter asking them to promote the jab to wary parents. However, when asked by The Pharmacist what role community pharmacy will have in all this, the Department of Health and Social Care’s reply was nothing short of vague.
Don’t misunderstand me – it’s great that the powers that be are taking this issue seriously. It beggars belief that the UK should lose its measles-free status at all. But why on earth is community pharmacy completely absent in the plans to rectify this disaster?
It’s not as though pharmacists lack the skills to deliver a vaccination service. In fact, minimal time and effort would need to be spent on training as the pharmacy flu vaccination service has been nationally commissioned in England since 2015.
And the resounding success of that service means pharmacists have more than proved their worth. On Friday, this was recognised with the announcement of a hike in flu vaccination fees and the axing of the service’s mandatory patient questionnaire, after a record-breaking 1.4 million flu jabs were delivered in pharmacies last year.
What’s more, community pharmacists have been told in no uncertain terms that their future lies in service provision. So why the glaring absence when the perfect opportunity presents itself?
Friday’s announcement offered a glimmer of hope, with its hint at the possibility of community pharmacy seeing an ‘expanded role’ in national vaccination programmes through primary care networks (PCNs). But if Matt Hancock really wants ‘the whole health system’ to work together in the urgent fight against MMR, he needs to put his money where his mouth is – sooner rather than later.
Commissioning a national pharmacy MMR vaccine service isn’t just a smart choice. Failing to commission it would be almost as stupid as the anti-vax movement that got us here in the first place.