Clinical Ambassador, independent pharmacist prescribing manager James Payne, talks to Kathy Oxtoby about running a busy travel clinic

Patients and GPs who were struggling to find travel vaccination appointments within the NHS now have easy access to travel health services at a clinic established by a west London pharmacy.

D Parry Pharmacy specialises in travel, and its busy Wimbledon Park Travel Clinic run by independent prescribing pharmacist James Payne offers not only vaccinations but also travel medication, such as that for altitude sickness.

Getting started

Three years ago, Mr Payne, along with the pharmacy’s superintendent, decided to establish a travel clinic. ‘We identified a local need after many queries from patients and GPs who were struggling to find travel vaccination appointments within the NHS,’ Mr Payne explains.

Because of this, he says the service was set up ‘to give parents support in protecting themselves and their children from the dangers of vaccine preventable diseases’.

‘The NHS can’t afford to protect everyone from these conditions and there’s not much information available on what to do if you miss out on the available NHS vaccines, so we wanted to improve communications and spread the message that there are other options for those with the resources to pay,’ says Mr Payne.

‘We also wanted to ensure we are not completely dependent on the current NHS remuneration structure, which is not very stable, so we saw this fantastic private service as an opportunity for needed income, he says.

The pharmacy’s local population likes to travel but their vaccination needs couldn’t always be met by the local surgeries. ‘Often, the practice nurses are fully booked,’ says Mr Payne.

The travel clinic supports local GP surgeries by fitting in any referrals from them. ‘We have always been able to fit in last minute travellers, and have developed our walk in service to fit in those with busy lifestyles,’ he says.

As the travel clinic’s reputation has grown surgeries are recommending the service from further and further away. And the pharmacists’ foresight has also meant the travel clinic has been able to support the local mosque with Meningitis ACWY vaccinations, and certification for Islamic pilgrimages Hajj and Umra, ‘recognising our local population needs that local service’, says Mr Payne.

Being proactive

As the service has grown and more people are hearing about the service he says the clinic has had many GP surgeries ‘call us up last minute’ for appointments. The clinic’s consultations also give the pharmacy opportunities to support public health initiatives and engage patients with other health issues.

‘We get a lot of queries from smokers on how to manage their habit when they cannot smoke during their flight. It gives us a great chance to talk about smoking cessation and refer them to the other services we offer in the pharmacy such as the smoking cessation service,’ Mr Payne says.

Overcoming challenges

While running a travel clinic brings benefits, it also has its challenges, which Mr Payne says are mainly around stock. He points out there have been many vaccines out of stock recently and some of them for quite some time, such as Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B. To combat this difficulty, he says the pharmacy team ‘are very well trained to deal with queries around every aspect of travel’.

‘They will call suppliers or check online every day and check our stock levels in the pharmacy to ensure they match patient demand. We are often in the loop when it comes to manufacturers’ stock issues and can order accordingly,’ he says.

With more travel clinics emerging, and advertising, the clinic takes its marketing very seriously – its website is being continually developed and it also has a presence on social media and websites such as MumsNet.

The clinic also stands out through its solid reputation, which helps retain customers and encourage new ones through word of mouth in the community. This reputation is also fostered by local GPs with whom the pharmacy has ‘always had a close relationship, and we try and meet them frequently, ‘and who ‘tend to name us first when referring patients’, says Mr Payne.

Going above and beyond

He believes the service has ‘benefited everyone, especially the team’. He explains staff had to upskill in order to be confident to deal with patients during the times when Mr Payne is in the consultation room delivering the travel clinic service.

But he says the pharmacy was able to manage the increased number of patients without affecting waiting times or customer service because of the ‘great mind set the team has’.

‘Every single member of staff wants to do their best for our patients and they do it with warmth and openness. Every single member of the team has gone that extra mile and recommended changes to increase efficiencies in the dispensary to manage appointments,’ he says.

Any pharmacists considering setting up a travel clinic should make sure there is a demand for such a service within their local population, he advises. And if that’s the case, he believes they should ‘go for it’. For – according to Mr Payne – as well as offering an extra service to patients, a travel clinic ‘is profitable, easy to manage, great for the team, and great for your own professional development’.