Mahyar Nickkho-Amiry, superintendent pharmacist and managing director at Dears Pharmacy in Scotland, speaks to reporter Costanza Pearce about how his pharmacy is improving access to the MMR jab
Last month, it was revealed that hospital admissions for measles have increased by two-thirds in the past year, while mumps cases are at their highest level in a decade.
The news followed Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s call for healthcare teams to take ‘urgent action’ to boost uptake of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) jab, after the World Health Organization announced that the UK was no longer considered measles free.
Dears Pharmacy, which has nine branches in Edinburgh and Fife, was among almost 300 community pharmacies to sign up to deliver an MMR jab service under a free patient group directive (PGD) from the training provider PharmaDoctor before the e-tool went live in September.
Mahyar Nickkho-Amiry, superintendent pharmacist and managing director at Dears Pharmacy, shares why the group decided to offer the MMR jab ‘at cost’.
Why did you decide to start offering private vaccination services in the first place?
Up until November 2015, all our pharmacies were what you would call classically-run pharmacies, doing mostly dispensing and NHS pharmacy services. Then we decided to have a look at what could be done to improve customer access to services and we identified that private services would be a good avenue to go down.
That included a travel clinic that we offer in all our pharmacies, vaccination services and a range of private prescriptions or new medicines that are available as a PGD following a consultation with a pharmacist.
All the services that we offer are available without an appointment. It’s giving the customer the flexibility and freedom that as long as our pharmacy is open, if you want access to an NHS or private service, we’re here to help you.
What made you decide to charge patients for only the cost of the MMR vaccination itself and not for the service?
We took a bit of an unusual step with the MMR vaccination service. To help us drive patient access and uptake we [decided] to charge the patient at cost – for the cost of the vaccine that we’re purchasing from the wholesaler.
It’s trying to encourage those who maybe haven’t got time to go to a GP surgery, which we hope they would do in the first instance because then they can get [the jab] for free. But if they really need to and want to come and see a pharmacist, then we’re lowering the cost of access to it. It’s more just to try and drive uptake because it’s far better to vaccinate than not to vaccinate.
We worked hard with wholesalers to ensure that we’ve got some level of stock in all our pharmacies and if a customer presents, we’re saying to them, ‘this isn’t something we do all the time but we are giving this to you at cost’. Our pharmacists are fully on board with that. They understand the importance of trying to ensure that we reduce any chances of [MMR] spreading because people are not vaccinating.
How are you making patients aware that you’re offering this service?
We have a website that’s got information about it and we’re also posting on social media – on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – to make our customers aware. We’ve got good relationships with a lot of the nurseries and schools near us, as well as the GP surgeries and healthcare visitors. They’re all aware of our services. We’ve also got A1 poster holders in our pharmacy windows and we’ve got an advert there highlighting the MMR service.
What would you say to contractors who are unsure whether they should offer the MMR jab service?
I would say that it’s up to them whether they choose to offer it at cost. We appreciate that everyone treats their own business in a different way. From our point of view, we have found over the last four years since we introduced a range of private services that it’s helped to protect our pharmacy from remuneration cutbacks. And our pharmacists and our teams feel more engaged and closer to the community because they can offer much more than just the NHS pharmacy service.
If you’re unsure, speak to someone who’s already offering the service. Ask them for tips and advice. And take little steps to try one or two things. Sometimes some things will work and you’ll learn from it if they don’t. Pharmacists are always here to support other pharmacists and my door is always open. As a pharmacy profession, there’s so much more we can do than what we currently offer.