Some independent community pharmacies in London are receiving just a quarter of the daily Covid-19 vaccine bookings they were told to expect, the Pharmacist has learned.

The pharmacy-led sites were advised to prepare to vaccinate up to 200 patients per day, but some told the Pharmacist they have seen only 50 coming through their doors and have raised concerns that their elderly patients are struggling to book an appointment via the national booking system.

PSNC confirmed it had heard similar reports from some contractors and LPCs.

A spokesperson for NHS England said patients unable to access a pharmacy site ‘can wait for an invitation from their GP or local hospital’.

Sobha Sharma Kandel, who owns Woolwich Late Night Pharmacy in Greenwich, told the Pharmacist her pharmacy was ‘not receiving the volume of patients’ they were told to expect.

She said they had only seen ‘around 50-60 patients to vaccinate per day’ since starting vaccinations on 20 January, which she believed was a ‘real waste of resources’.

‘We were told we’d be vaccinating 1,000 people per week, so that is what we prepared for. But we’re just not seeing that volume of patients sign up,’ she added.

‘I’m part of a London WhatsApp group of pharmacists who are involved in the vaccination programme, and from what I've seen, this appears to be a London-wide issue.’

Adeola Bolarinde, a pharmacist at McParland Pharmacy in Edgware, also told the Pharmacist that the uptake of vaccines at her pharmacy was ‘not as high’ as they had expected.

The pharmacy – which started vaccinating the public on 21 January – was initially receiving 200 bookings per day, but that number has now dropped to ‘less than 50’, Ms Bolarinde said.

She added that a lot of local older people had received their jab by the time the site was set up.

The Manchester Evening News also reported today (27 January) that a pharmacy-led site in Manchester – Everest Pharmacy – has experienced a ‘lack of slots being filled’, despite having prepared to vaccinate 2,000 people per week.

Pharmacies applying to become a site were told by NHS England in November that being able to administer ‘at least 1,000 vaccines each week’ would be a key requirement of the programme.

National booking service

Both pharmacists expressed concern that issues with the national booking system – which eligible patients must use to book a vaccination at a pharmacy – were behind the low numbers.

Ms Bolarinde said: ‘A few of our patients who are eligible haven’t been able to sign up on the national booking system, so I don’t know if there is a glitch in the system maybe?’

She added: 'With the over 70s and 80s, not a lot of them are computer savvy so if they try once or twice [to sign up] and fail they’re just going to give up and abandon the whole thing. So, someone has to keep an eye on who’s had a letter, who hasn’t, who’s signed up, etc.

‘This is most definitely a reason as to why pharmacies are experiencing lower volumes of patients.’

This was echoed by Ms Sharma Kandel, who said some older people ‘who might not be IT savvy and/or cannot speak English might not be able to navigate the NHS system and are therefore finding it hard to sign up for a vaccine’.

Her pharmacy has now set up a hotline to help patients who are struggling. Those who have received a letter inviting them to book their vaccine can provide the pharmacy with their NHS number and staff will book the patient onto the national booking system.

Ms Sharma Kandel added that she had also encountered cases of patients still yet to receive their letter, despite the recent government announcement that they are now eligible to book a jab.

The Government announced on 18 January that the vaccination programme was being extended to the over 70s and the extremely clinically vulnerable – priority cohorts three and four – but said that vaccinating the first two groups – which includes the over 80s - should ‘remain the priority’.

‘It’s a bit strange because some people over 70 still have not been invited. I think some GPs were not activating their accounts, so when we put their names in the national booking system they didn’t come up,’ she said.

‘Reports raised with NHS England’

Alastair Buxton, PSNC director of NHS Services, told the Pharmacist that the negotiating body had heard ‘similar reports from some pharmacy contractors and LPCs’.

He said: ‘We have heard similar reports from some pharmacy contractors and LPCs, and likewise general practice media reported challenges at PCN-led sites in the first weeks of the programme.

‘It is perhaps not unexpected for such a large vaccination programme to experience some challenges at the start of the process, but these reports have been raised with NHSE&I who are looking to address the issues as pharmacy sites come on stream.’

NHS England and Improvement (NHSE&I) has so far commissioned 200 pharmacy-led sites, all of which are due to come online by the end of the month as more vaccine supplies become available.

Responding to the concerns raised by pharmacists, an NHSE&I spokesperson said: ‘The aged 75 and over have started to be invited to the mass vaccination centres, PCNs or 70 pharmacies currently taking part in the vaccination programme. If they cannot access one of these sites they can wait for an invitation from their GP or local hospital.'