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‘Getting the flu service right will make us ready for a role in Covid vaccinations’

flu vaccinations

By Carolyn Scott

30 Oct 2020

Mimi Lau, chief operating officer, Mr Pickford’s Pharmacy Group, Leicester, speaks to Carolyn Scott about running a flu vaccination service.

Service type: Flu.

Name of pharmacy: Mr Pickford’s Pharmacy Group, Leicester.

Name of pharmacist: Mimi Lau.

Why did you start offering the service?

We’ve been running the flu service for four years, and across six sites we did 2,500 flu vaccinations last year, which was pretty good going. But I thought we could do a lot more this time, and so we went for a much higher quantity – we ordered 11,500 flu vaccines. Admittedly, this was in anticipation of some acquisitions that didn’t happen due to Covid, but I don’t think we will have any trouble using these.

Interest in flu vaccines has been increasing year on year, and is really high this year. There’s only going to be more awareness in flu in my view. Getting the service right also makes us ready for a role in other vaccination services, including Covid vaccination when the time comes.

How much did it cost to set up the service?

We’ve had to rethink a bit about how to deliver the service because of Covid: to make sure that customers feel safe. We are lucky in that our consultation rooms are fairly big, and we’ve only had two pharmacies where we’ve had to use some of the retail space to extend the consultation room. There were extra costs for 2020 of course: putting up screens, wipeable chairs for customers, clearer signage, giving our staff the whole PPE – masks, visors, aprons, gloves – and the cleaning equipment to wipe down between patients. We’ve done a lot of marketing as well: flyers that we put in prescription bags; posters in store and information on the website. I would say all of this was an extra £500 per site. We’ve also invested in an online booking tool, which we didn’t have last year. Each pharmacy has a flu champion in the team.

What, if any, training did you or other team members have to undergo?

Because of Covid, most pharmacists only needed refresher training, which they did online. I only sent two pharmacists to face to face training – all socially distanced – one was a locum and the other a new pharmacist. The pharmacy team, particularly the flu champion, did some online training to give a reminder of what is flu, the symptoms, how vaccines work and how do you deliver the service. The only cost there was the face to face training.  

In a nutshell, what does the service involve?

This year, we wanted to minimise the time that the patient was in the pharmacy, and our new online booking system was built by our IT person. Patients are directed there to see what appointments are available, and to prepopulate all the information about themselves when they book. Then before they come in, they do the pre-Covid questionnaire. We wanted to make sure all the information and advice was there, and that it was a slick operation.

We make available 50 bookings in an hour, and the flu champions help keep the flow of patients. We wanted block bookings, with all the paperwork done in advance, so the pharmacist is vaccinating continuously rather than stopping and starting. This minimises the contact time.

Patients come in with masks or we supply them with a mask if they forget, and we give them a little bottle of hand sanitiser to use and keep. Afterwards, we ask them to sit on a chair at the other end of the pharmacy for a few minutes to make sure they are alright before they leave.

We’ve been prioritising NHS patients, with some appointments for private patients. Our marketing encouraged our NHS patients to get booked in early. For example, pregnant women, one of the at-risk groups, are hard to reach, so we’ve included that messaging in our marketing.

Are there any opportunities to sell over the counter or prescription products during the consultation or after it?

Absolutely. Our staff are checking whether the patient need any medicines to manage the after-effects of the flu jab, do they need to stock up on winter medicines and vitamins etc. Also, whether they need any more face masks and hand sanitisers – as we have these in stock too. It’s a soft sell on the basis of making sure that the patient has everything they need to keep them safe and well.

How have patients responded to the service?

In the first three weeks of the service we have already given around 3,000 vaccines, and with a net promoter score of 90. Some teams were nervous about the new measures to begin, but once they got going, they were fine. We took the steps we needed to ensure the confidence of our staff and the confidence of our patients. We send patients a short questionnaire to ask them about their experience and did they feel safe. We’ve always offered our staff a free flu jab, and we’ve had more uptake from them as well this year.

How often each month do you carry out the service?

We are aiming to be finished by mid-December, with the bulk in October and November, and perhaps a few stragglers in January and February. If we can say at the end of the season that we’ve vaccinated nearly 12,000 people, that will be amazing.

How much do you charge for the service?

We charge £12 for a private flu jab.

Roughly, how much a month do you make from offering the service?

If you are smart enough, you can make the flu service work commercially. You make a margin on your vaccines if you order early enough, and it’s about delegating as much as possible to the team.

One of the learnings from last year was that we should order our flu vaccines earlier. We went directly to two manufacturers – Seqirus and Mylan – and secured our flu order for 2020 in November 2019. That allowed them to give us delivery dates in September; from 18 September, and I had a good discount by pre-ordering. While it’s hard to predict what you are going to do next year, I’d say do secure your vaccines early: pre-plan, pre-order, go directly to the manufacturer, and try to arrange early delivery. Have an ambitious goal in terms of what uplift in vaccinations you want to deliver, increasing every year.

Would you recommend offering this service to other contractors?

I would assume that most pharmacies are offering the flu service. It’s growing the role of pharmacists, patients want the access that pharmacy offers, and we know that GPs and nurses are under pressure and we can help with that. There’s also a big public health remit here, and it’s great that we’re being more recognised for our role in public health. In fact, it would be quite shameful for the profession if pharmacies weren’t making the most of the opportunity. Pharmacies can do it – it’s just about thinking differently and being organised well in advance and engaging the whole pharmacy team.

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