Pete Horrocks, superintendent of the Knights Pharmacy Group, talks to Saša Janković about transforming a retired ambulance into a mobile health clinic.

Service type
Mobile health clinic

Name and location of service
Across County Durham

Name of superintendent pharmacist
Pete Horrocks

Why did you start offering this service?

This follows on from a little project we did when we were approached by what was Durham CCG, who had access to a double decker bus and were putting together a clinical team to support healthcare outreach. We provided staff from the pharmacy and went out on four occasions with them when there was a big push to get everyone a Covid booster, so I had that in my mind. I didn’t really have a business plan, but I had a hunch it would help us meet a need.  We've now been running a mobile health bus since Summer 2022.

How much did it cost to set up the service?

Last summer, I thought I can’t justify the cost of a bus, but I found a retired St John ambulance on Auto Trader down in the west country for a reasonable price. It only had 35,00 miles on the clock, but we upgraded the electrics as it is 20 years old, took out the bed and put in a drop leaf table, enabled mobile WiFi and added 3-pin plugs for our laptops to connect to NHS systems, and added a diesel heater to keep staff warm.

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

There’s usually a minimum of two of us in the van but probably three – with one to manage queue, depending on what service we are offering – which always includes a nurse or pharmacy clinician.

Insurance and regs are standard, since we are delivering services the NHS has already commissioned to be done off site, and the van is acting as an extension of our pharmacy premises.

In a nutshell, what does the service involve?

So far we’ve been using the van across County Durham, where we have seven pharmacies and our head office, offering blood pressure tests in September, and then when the flu service launched we went to various sites to offer that. NHS colleagues then identified needs around Covid vaccination, so we went out to a couple of sites for that too.

Are there any opportunities to sell OTC or prescription products during or after the consultation?

Not directly, but we can of course refer patients back into pharmacy or other clinical settings where necessary.

How have patients responded to the service?

We had the van branded up with the Knights livery so it’s great advertising and makes it obvious when we are in the community. Patients have said they are so grateful we have come to their area and made healthcare easy to access.

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

It varies, but one example is a small village called Coxhoe which, although it has a pharmacy and GP practice, noted their vaccination uptake was lower than the rest of the area. We were advised this would be good location to take the van to, and in three hours we delivered 170 Covid and flu jabs.

Would you recommend offering this service to other contractors?

Yes – the beauty of it is that we can park up and be ready for operation in five minutes, as everything is there. It would be great to potentially add more mobile health clinics like this to our offering, with one in each of our regions, and if it wasn’t for staffing challenges I’d have been out much more with the one we’ve got, but our number one priority is, of course, keeping pharmacies open.