Siân Williams is a community pharmacist in north-west England and has delivered the NHS commissioned flu service to patients since it started in 2015. She tells Rachel Carter how she ensures her pharmacy's service is as successful as it can be

How do you prepare for flu season?

Staff training is really important. You need separate processes for the NHS service and the private service, because there are different rules and regulations for each. We are told a date for when the vaccines will be available, so I make sure I know exactly what I’m ordering.

Last year, I ordered 100 of the vaccines for under-65s and 100 for over-65s to get started. You don’t want too much or you might be left with surplus or you might prevent the pharmacy down the road from ordering theirs if your locality is on  a quota, but you need to be prepared.

We offer an appointment-based system for flu jabs, but in the first couple of weeks we also offer drop-in sessions. The appointment-based system has worked well for us because a lot of the patients are busy young professionals. Assess what will work for your demographic.

How do you promote the service?

We have big posters in our window saying ‘get your free NHS flu jab here’ and we seal every prescription bag with a massive promotional sticker. From August onwards, we start booking people in, so staff talk to patients and explain that we offer the same service as GPs.

How do you target the eligible patient groups?

From August onwards, I ensure my staff are speaking to any at-risk patients and explaining that they are
eligible for a free flu jab, that we’re starting from 1 September and they can either drop in to the pharmacy for it or book an appointment.
As pharmacists, we can’t be going out constantly talking to patients, we’d never get anything done, so it  is key to train our staff to have these conversations.

Last year we had an in-house competition – the first staff member to book 50 patients in for their flu jab got two boxes of chocolates, and the year before I said if we booked 300 patients I’d take them out for a meal, which I did.

What else is key to success?

Making it easy for the patient. We can offer a flu jab service from 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday and on a Saturday morning. We can arrange  it for the time the patient comes in  to order or pick up their prescription. We are very accessible for patients. They can walk in and see  a pharmacist straight away. 

I think a lot of patients don’t understand the qualifications and information a pharmacist has, so we share our knowledge with them, let them know we’re a resource. Uptake for this service has increased year on year – they’re happy to come back.

What might increase uptake?

Start early. I vaccinated 100 patients last year before the GP surgeries had even started because we were ready and they weren’t. So on 1 September you need to be ready to go. I also got in touch with my local GPs because the previous years there had been friction.

I told them we were there to help, not to compete, and that if they had any patients they couldn’t book in, they could refer them to us. That improved the relationship.