Olivier Picard, pharmacist, IP, and managing director of Newdays Pharmacy Ltd, talks to Saša Janković about running a flu vaccination service.

Name of pharmacy: Newdays Pharmacy, Eton.

Name of pharmacist: Olivier Picard.

Why did you start offering this service?

I started offering this service 12 years ago. It started when we were approached by our wholesalers asking if we’d like to get involved with a new flu vaccination service they were launching in conjunction with a vaccine manufacturer. At that stage it was only ever going to be a private service, so we went to the training and began advertising the fact we were offering flu vaccinations. In our first year we only did 39 vaccinations, but we asked everyone who attended if we could contact them the following year to invite them to come back again. This worked, and the next year we did 100 private vaccinations, which was a considerable increase.

What really kicked it off in the 2009/10 winter season was the H1N1 swine flu pandemic, and by January of 2010 there were suddenly lots more people wanting to be vaccinated. I struggled to buy more vaccines, but managed to get some from the same supplier who had originally partnered with our wholesaler. However, because the PGD was only for those from the wholesaler I couldn’t use it for these. So, because I’m an IP, I did an individual consultation with every single person who wanted the vaccination, and prescribed and then administered the vaccine. Our pharmacies now do thousands of flu vaccinations every year, several hundred of which are private, and the service continues to grow.

In a nutshell, what does the service involve?

Since the NHS began offering the vaccination in pharmacies we have done a walk-in service, but this year with Covid in mind, and having to clean the room between patients, we have a booked appointment system with 15 minute slots. When the customer comes in we have two options for dealing with them: if the pharmacy is busy we use the PreConsult service in PharmOutcomes which pre-populates the flu service template ahead of the consultation; if we are less busy then staff can do the paperwork with the patient. Once the person is in the consulting room I explain the process, vaccinate them, ask them to remain in the room while I enter the details from their paperwork onto the computer, then I wipe down the room, chairs and so on. We require all patients to wear a mask unless they are exempt.

How much did it cost to set up the service?

When we started back in 2008 it cost around £300 but this included 50 vaccine doses, with the option to buy more from the wholesaler if needed. That first year I lost £500 offering the service but I knew it was one that would take off, and I thought we’d eventually be doing NHS patients too. We’ve had to spend some money this year in order to be Covid secure – for example, replacing our fabric-covered chairs in the consultation room with plastic ones that we can easily wipe down.

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

When we started I had two pharmacies so my other pharmacist and I trained up so we could both offer the service. Now I have four pharmacies and six pharmacists trained up, and it’s a condition that our regular locum must also be flu trained otherwise they don’t get shifts between September and November.

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

People are not ill at the time they get their flu vaccination so upselling is not appropriate. However, as the vaccination for children is a live attenuated vaccine it is possible they may experience flu-like symptoms, where appropriate we advise their parents or carers to give them paracetamol if that’s the case.

How have patients responded to the service?

Feedback from patients has always been really positive – they love that they don’t have to queue, and it’s convenient which means more people are able to get vaccinated. We are fortunate that the locations we are in are fairly affluent, so people feel they can afford to pay for it if they need to. Customers start emailing me in June asking when we are starting flu vaccination. I also started a private service for children a few years ago, to capture those who didn’t fall into the at-school vaccination category.

Roughly, how often each month do you carry out the service?

The service runs from September until the end of March, but by the end of December it’s generally done. In each pharmacy we usually do around 100 vaccinations in September and October, 10s in November and December, and single figures from January onwards, and under our current Covid-secure system we can vaccinate as many as 40 people in day.

How much do you charge for the service?

Figures not available.

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

We have ordered 2,500 doses of the vaccine this year, so multiply that by the NHS price, and the income for the group will be somewhere between £40-50k. However, my bill is £15-18k to buy the vaccine, plus it’s also really time consuming to deliver. In the busy stores I’m going in as a second pharmacist and that’s a cost that’s not captured, so by the time the season is over you haven’t made that total.

Would you recommend offering this service to other contractors?

It’s something patients value immensely and I think there would be a brawl if I said I was no longer vaccinating. Offering a flu vaccination service adds value to what we do, and shows pharmacists are not just about dosing pills.

Read more case studies on clinical services.