This winter, pharmacists and other health professionals will deliver a flu vaccination programme larger than ever before. In England alone, 30 million patients are being targeted, with more schoolchildren, the over 50s, and shielded patients and their households among the new cohorts eligible for a free vaccine.
On Friday (28 August), NHS England published the service specification for community pharmacy, which outlines a number of other key changes. The need to obtain written consent has been removed – and will only need to be verbal this year – while restrictions around providing off-site vaccinations have also been lifted.
Today marks the official start of the expanded programme, and The Pharmacist spoke to three contractors to find out how preparations are coming along.
‘Lack of uptake’
Amish Patel, owner of Hodgson Pharmacy in Kent, said he had been hoping to see a big increase in uptake, but instead many of his patients who usually have the flu jab have already booked with one of the larger multiples, who opened bookings early this year.
Mr Patel also put the lack of surge in patients down to the fact that more places are providing the vaccine than in previous years.
‘More pharmacies are offering the service this year, and GPs, who have been working behind closed doors, have also been working very hard to promote the vaccine,’ he said.
He added that the current social distancing measures – put in place to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 – may also have an impact on pharmacists’ ability to deliver.
‘Before, I might have someone booked in and still manage to squeeze people in here and there, but because of social distancing I will not be able to do this,’ he said.
Navigating the social distancing measures will be a challenge for pharmacists, who are used to administering the flu jab in their consultation rooms. GP practices have already started making plans for off-site vaccinations in supermarket car parks, stadiums, and local halls – but the recent changes outlined in the service specification will mean community pharmacy can follow suit.
This is the case for Jay Badenhorst, managing director for Whitworth Chemists, who said he is hoping to use an 11-space car park at one of his 35 branches as a ‘drive-through model’, where patients can receive the vaccine while sitting in their car.
He is however also concerned that the increased demand for vaccines will not necessarily be reflected in community pharmacy.
‘People will probably go where it’s most convenient for them, and if there’s a car park nearby [then] that might be easier than going into a pharmacy and sitting in a consultation room where there is a risk of contracting Covid-19,’ he added.
Sunil K Kochhar, an independent prescriber and owner of Regent Pharmacy in Gravesend, added that the opening of these larger vaccination spaces means there isn’t a level playing field for GPs and pharmacists to deliver care to patients in the community – as pharmacists cannot utilise these spaces as easily.
‘The way regulations are at present doesn’t allow me to go to a community hall and provide flu vaccinations while the pharmacy is still open,’ he said.
‘To do this I’d have to get in a locum to look after the pharmacy – which is just another added expense. Whereas GP’s can just send their nurses over to vaccinate the public.’
However, Mr Kochhar said he thinks many patients will still opt to use their pharmacy to receive the vaccine.
‘There are obviously going to be those who feel like going to a car park to get vaccinated is the easier and safer option. But in our pharmacy over the years we’ve built trusting relationships with our patients, they feel secure here,’ he said.
‘There is definitely more commercial competition this year, but to be honest, in the pandemic, we should be working together to get as many people vaccinated as possible. So, whether patients use a pharmacy, GP or car park, we need to all promote each other so we reach every community member.’