Nat Mitchell, pharmacist and director at J.W.W. Allison & Sons Chemist in Cockermouth, tells Saša Janković why his flu service is walk-in only.
Service type: Flu vaccination.
Name of pharmacy: J.W.W. Allison & Sons Chemist, Cockermouth, Cumbria.
Name of pharmacist: Nat Mitchell.
Why did you start offering this service?
I started offering this service eight years ago. We are a real local community pharmacy in a small town, so our customers are great at telling us what they want, and they’d asked us for a long time if we were going to have a flu service because they found access not as easy as they would have liked. Once the LPC got involved with a locally commissioned service I jumped at the chance to offer one, because it’s been well-proven across the country that people have really taken to having their flu jabs done in their local pharmacy.
How much did it cost to set up the service?
There has been a cost for using the hotel this year, but we are lucky that it’s been busy enough that payments should cover that extra outlay. In the end, what matters is that we were able to carry out the service as safely as possible for all involved.
What, if any, training did you or other team members have to undergo?
CPPE is your declaration of competency, and now we use Voyager – the company that supplies our PGDs – to provide the online training and the practical hands-on refreshers every three years.
In a nutshell, what does the service involve?
We run an NHS and private flu vaccination service. I know a lot of places have cut the private service this year because of supply issues, but I didn’t want to turn away anyone trying to protect themselves and their family. I would hate to put somebody off, only to find out later that they had caught flu.
We never do appointments because, in my opinion, this reduces the chances of people turning up ad hoc, plus if they try to book and you say no they go elsewhere or won’t get a jab at all, which is worse altogether. We trialled appointments early on when we started the service but we found we had people turning up late, or early, and we don’t want people meeting or hanging around at the moment either.
From experience, I find that we get people coming back to us every year because they are happy with the service they’ve received from us. Maybe if we were quieter appointments would work, and I know some people think appointments make you feel more clinical, but we prefer to do it this way and it’s still professional.
We had to make a few changes this year, of course. We moved our flu service off site for the first few weeks to a hotel three doors away that was not being used, which gave us access to a really big space where we could socially distance patients, with a separate entrance and exit. This would be difficult to do in the pharmacy, and we are lucky that we have two pharmacists so we can do it this way while still keeping the pharmacy running. We also did some vaccinations in local village halls, which was great because we could see 150 people in a session.
Are there any opportunities to sell over the counter or prescription products during the consultation or after it?
This year has been different because we decreased contact time to the bare minimum, but generally the service attracts new people to the premises and gives them more confidence in you as they see a more clinical side to what you do. Customers think that if you can do a flu jab then there must be a lot of other things you can do for them too.
I’ve done a lot of pneumonia jabs privately as well, and these have definitely seen upturn this year.
How have patients responded to the service?
They love it. They really appreciated the measures we have gone to to provide the service this year, and how we’ve thought about how to keep people safe.
Roughly how often each month do you carry out the service?
In an average season we usually do above 2,500, and this year we did that in about 3-4 weeks because the people who wanted one accessed it really early. With pneumonia, historically we maybe do 20 in a season, but this year we’ve done about 150 so far.
How much do you charge for the service?
Flu is £10 for a private vaccination, and the standard pneumonia jab is £45.
Roughly how much a month do you make from offering the service?
Figures not available.
Would you recommend offering this service to other contractors?
Definitely. Professionally I find it satisfying and I am lucky that we have two pharmacists here, which makes it much smoother, but for us it’s worth the investment. You do have to put the time in to do it well, but the income is really important with all the cuts we’ve had, and the goodwill that you get from it is great too. If you are not doing it then your competitors will be.