Community pharmacy should be included in any local planning meetings around vaccinations in future pandemics, the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) told the Covid public inquiry this week.

The sector must be included from the outset in any discussions including supply and resourcing of a vaccination service, the community pharmacy body said in the latest public hearing, held yesterday (13 September).

And its lawyers said that future pandemic vaccination programmes could better utilise existing primary care expertise, make information more easily available to community pharmacists and be better planned.

Brian Stanton, from law firm Innovo Law and representing the NPA, told the inquiry that the pharmacy body had, as early as the summer of 2020, highlighted to the government and policy makers the key role that community pharmacy could play in administering the vaccination service, given its experience in delivering flu vaccinations for over two decades.

‘However, despite this potential and existing expertise and experience, government engagement with community pharmacy in the initial planning of the programme in Autumn 2020 was limited and it was only later in the programme (from Spring 2021) that the community pharmacy network was able to participate more fully,’ Mr Stanton said.

In written evidence submitted ahead of the hearing, the NPA also said that:

  • There was an initial lack of clarity about how community pharmacies were selected to participate in the Covid-19 vaccination programme
  • This approach was inconsistent across different areas of England
  • Some of the training required of pharmacists was irrelevant or had already been covered as part of the routine flu vaccination service, taking increased time which may have delayed Covid-19 vaccination provision
  • Delivery of the service produced ‘significant paperwork and administration that increased workload and pressure on community pharmacy’
  • Supply of vaccines was ‘sporadic at times’ and in some cases only allocated to community pharmacies where patients had already booked an appointment
  • Communication between patients and providers via the NHS booking system was difficult – for instance, at times it did not allow patients to cancel appointments in time to avoid vaccine wastage

NPA chair Nick Kaye said he wanted to ‘ensure that the inquiry’s recommendations are based in the practical realities faced by health workers including pharmacy teams’.

‘We want this process to result in action that will better equip the health service to be resilient against, and responsive to, future public health crises,’ he said.

And he said that he was ‘determined that community pharmacy’s life-saving contribution will not be forgotten by future generations’.

‘Although the benefits of taking part may take months or even years to filter through, I see this as an historic opportunity to place on record the achievements of community pharmacy during the pandemic,’ he added in a statement today.

During the hearing yesterday, Mr Stanton highlighted that by 14 January 2022, community pharmacy had delivered ‘well over 22 million vaccinations’.

‘Community pharmacists have strong trusting relationships in local communities and were able to engage with patients to discuss their concerns and to debunk myths. Because community pharmacies are more heavily concentrated in deprived areas, this type of engagement helped to tackle vaccine inequalities,’ he told the inquiry, which included representatives from government and the NHS.

The inquiry was set up to examine the UK’s response to and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and learn lessons to shape preparations for future pandemics.

Former health secretary Matt Hancock told a previous hearing that the government knew more about the pharmaceutical supply chain in the UK during the pandemic than at ‘any time in history’.

The latest hearing comes as the NPA has also recently raised concerns about vaccine availability and appointment booking systems for this year’s winter vaccination service that it says are making final preparations ‘nigh on impossible’.