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Full-on assault on Covid

Award Winners Interviews

Full-on assault on Covid

Ticehurst pharmacist Hardik Desai tells Saša Janković the Covid vaccination clinic he started in his local village hall has grown into a service staffed by over 180 local volunteers, delivering over 95,000 vaccines...and counting…


“No one expected something like this would happen in a small village like ours, and that it would run so efficiently for so long,” says Hardik Desai, owner of Ticehurst Pharmacy in East Sussex. He is talking about the Covid vaccination site he set up in Ticehurst Village Hall in January 2021 – and which won him the Extra Mile Award at last year’s Independent Pharmacy Awards.

His was the first pharmacy-led covid vaccination site in East Sussex. To staff it he recruited and trained 40 local volunteers with the expectation that they would vaccinate about 1,000 patients a week. However, as word spread across neighbouring counties, and local and national media covered the story, the team quickly grew to 180 and they were vaccinating more than 800 patients a day at peak periods.

“Ticehurst has a population of less than 5,000 but so far we’ve delivered about 95,000 vaccinations to people who travelled from all over Kent and Sussex to come to the clinic,” says Hardik, “which is nearly as many as the big vaccination centres.”


Agile decisions

Part of this success, he believes, is down to the clinic’s long opening hours. “We were open from 8am to 8pm and most weekends too, which helped,” says Hardik. “We made the decision to create availability that met patient needs rather than our own. This also meant that we never had a long queue running down the road like some other centres, apart from a couple of days just before last Christmas when the government said everyone could just walk into vaccination clinics and get their winter booster.”

While managing the vaccination centre Hardik employed a locum pharmacist at his own pharmacy and popped in whenever he could to encourage and support the team there. This proved to be a wise move when he also got involved in running a second vaccination centre at Clarity Pharmacy in Rye, where he is a partner.

“Clarity’s superintendent pharmacist, Ankit Tyagi, helped me set up the Ticehurst vaccination centre, so when we noticed patients coming to us from Ashford, which is nearer to Rye, we decided to set up a clinic at Clarity Pharmacy to serve them there. The beauty of being an independent is that we can make decisions like this and just get on with it – and they’ve delivered about 50,000 Covid vaccinations now.”


Boosting relationships

Hardik is also involved in the continuing Covid booster vaccination programme. When the lease for Ticehurst Village Hall ran out in September 2021, he moved the clinic to the nearby Woodland Enterprise Centre on the A21 in time for the second phase of vaccinations and then the first booster programme. The team works four or five days a week, depending on demand and vaccine supply, and is now well into delivering the spring booster programme, as well as vaccinations for five to 11-year-olds.

“Since the Spring booster started things have really picked up again and I’m there all the time as I have a pharmacist to cover my pharmacy,” says Hardik. “We currently have 150 or so people involved with running the clinic, with vaccinators coming a day or two a week to do three or six-hour shifts, and volunteer stewards working in three-hour slots. All the volunteers have become like a little family here, and it’s also grown our relationship with our local surgery, which has worked with us rather than the PCN since the third phase of the vaccination programme.”


Positive outlook

His experience of the pandemic has left Hardik feeling positive about the future of his business, and of community pharmacy in general.

“I think there are a lot of positives for pharmacy going forward,” he says. “As we move to a service-based model I am optimistic that pharmacy can deliver a lot more of what is required in the general structure of the future NHS. For example, services like blood collection and testing can easily be done in the pharmacy rather than people having to book in at the GP surgery.”

However, while community pharmacy has clearly demonstrated it can deliver when presented with a challenge, Hardik is not sure that the NHS is ready to fully integrate pharmacy into its future structure or to use it properly. “In the last two years we’ve been better utilised than before and everyone thinks pharmacy has done really well in delivering the Covid vaccination service, but part of that was because we had no choice since everything else was closed,” he says.

“It’s a shame it took the pandemic to do this, so I want the government to recognise that it should now be using pharmacy to deliver the services they are struggling to accommodate or are not run cost-effectively or efficiently elsewhere. Give pharmacy a chance and, like we did with Covid, we can show what we can do.”


Future challenges

Never one to stop moving forward, Hardik has plans to launch more new services in the coming year. “I’ve recently done ear wax removal training and once the vaccination clinic calms down a bit I will start that offering that service from the pharmacy, alongside the new hypertension case finding service,” he says, “and try build those up before the autumn vaccination program starts - if they want us to do that.”

But despite his positive plans, Hardik still sees a shadow looming over the future of independent community pharmacy. “Hub-and-spoke is going to destroy independent community pharmacy,” he believes. “The government is trying to take dispensing work away from pharmacists so we can work on services more, but hub-and-spoke is not the answer.

“Once you switch to hub-and-spoke you’ll have no dispensing volume left and you will struggle after that, plus some pharmacies won’t be able to deliver all the services so won’t make enough income to survive and will close. By not using hub-and-spoke I’m proud to be employing three or four local people here in my small pharmacy, but moving to hub-and-spoke would take that away and I don't want to that – I love my staff and what they have done for me.”

And, of course, it’s not just his staff that he wants to protect. Hardik says small pharmacies like his only survive because they go out of their way for their customers and patients. “If we didn’t, we wouldn’t survive, and our village would end up with no pharmacy,” he says. “Lots of independents work as hard as this and I'm really proud of what we have achieved during the pandemic. If all this hard work is destroyed by the hub-and-spoke model, then next time we won’t be here to come forward to meet future challenges.

“If I was working in a multiple with hub-and-spoke rather than here in this pharmacy in this village, I wouldn’t have thought to set up a vaccination centre,” he adds, “and even if I had you can’t deliver something like this from inside those big organisations because they are not as agile us the independents – we can make decisions here on the spot and don't have to ask anyone.”

The nation’s Covid infection rate is still high, and Hardik say: “It important to remember that the freedom we have now is down to the vaccination program, which includes the delivery that pharmacy enabled. Government needs to recognise that what allowed pharmacy to deliver what was needed during the pandemic is the same structure they are trying to destroy with hub-and-spoke. We have proved what we can do so why not better integrate pharmacies into the wider structure and use us properly.”


Hardik's CV 

Hardik Desai qualified as a pharmacist in 2014 and bought Ticehurst Pharmacy in March 2019. He runs the business with a team of three full-time and four part-time staff members.

He is also the High Weald PCN lead and works closely with his CCG, providing a range of services including the disposal of unwanted medicines, DMS, NMS, flu vaccinations and the CPCS.

His pharmacy offers travel vaccinations and advice, malaria prophylaxis, a stop smoking service, emergency contraception and a C-card service. His free prescription and delivery service was used by 5 per cent of his patients before the pandemic but now delivers to 20 per cent.



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