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There’s much more to running a Meningitis B vaccination service that giving injections. Vaccinating babies and young children, as well as dealing with anxious parents, requires a reassuring approach, writes Kathy Oxtoby
Independent prescribing pharmacist James Payne, pharmacy manager of D Parry Pharmacy and its Wimbledon Park Travel Clinic in west London, says it’s important to reassure parents when giving Meningitis B vaccinations.
‘We always aim to ensure that both parent and child are happy and we will always talk to them at every stage of the process. I find that giving the child a sticker and a lolly afterwards is a good distraction and cheers them up. If mum allows it, that is,’ says Mr Payne.
‘We also have some toys and other distractions in the consultation room so that the child doesn’t have the time to get nervous in the build up to the vaccination,’ he adds.
Four years ago, Mr Payne and his superintendent pharmacist identified ‘a local need’ for the service after many queries from patients and GPs ‘who were struggling to find vaccination appointments within the NHS’, he explains.
The service was set up to give parents support in protecting their children from the dangers of Meningitis B. The vaccine is now
a routine childhood vaccination that is offered on the NHS to all babies born on or after May 1, 2015. But, as Mr Payne points out, ‘even now, the NHS can’t afford to protect everyone from this rare but often fatal disease and babies over six months miss out’.
The pharmacy also wanted to ensure it was not completely dependent on the current NHS pharmacy remuneration structure, ‘which is not very stable’. ‘We saw this fantastic private service as an opportunity for needed income,’ says Mr Payne.
To set up the service, a dedicated room was equipped with everything required for the vaccinations, including EpiPpens and anaphylaxis kits, as there is a small risk of patients having an allergic reaction.
All staff received training to manage the service and take queries over the phone. And Mr Payne, who gives the vaccinations, makes sure he is up to date with vaccination and CPR/resuscitation techniques.
Patients can also book an appointment online, they can call or come in and talk to the pharmacist. The service, which costs £135 per vaccine, offers 30-minute appointments so patients can feel at ease and unrushed.
During the appointment, a full consultation is done to check the vaccine is suitable as well as give Mr Payne the chance to explain the vaccination schedule, potential side effects and answer any questions they may have. ‘And we always leave some time after the consultation to ensure the child is not suffering any adverse effects from the vaccine’, he says.
Spreading the word
One of the travel clinic’s biggest advertising tools is its website. ‘We put a lot of time in to the website and ensured it is high up on Google searches,’ says Mr Payne. The pharmacy also has a presence on social media and other websites, such as MumsNet.
The pharmacy also spends a lot of time on its customer service, with the belief that customers will spread the message through word of mouth. ‘This has led to an increased customer base and better customer retention, and we see a lot of people coming back to us for their boosters and also other vaccine services,’ he says.
The service remains profitable, despite the fact that Meningitis B vaccinations are available on the NHS for free. But profit is not the only benefit for the pharmacy. Mr Payne says that, thanks to the service, the pharmacy’s reputation has grown locally ‘and we now get many referrals from local practice nurses, GPs, and even consultants’.
‘As the service has grown and more people are hearing about the great service they receive we have had many GP surgeries call us up last minute. We always get good feedback from GP receptionists when we’ve been able to help out,’ says Mr Payne.
The service has also helped build customer loyalty and repeat business, with parents coming back with their second and third child for vaccinations.
To other independent pharmacists thinking of setting up this service, he stresses that it is becoming a competitive market, so they should ‘go for the professional approach’
‘Be the one that everyone is recommending. Be flexible with bookings – mornings, evenings and weekends – and train locums for cover. And know and get involved in your local community,’ he advises.