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Warding off winter illness

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Warding off winter illness

Community pharmacists offering the influenza and Covid booster jabs this winter can expect massive demand for their services – but they will be learning from their experiences and building on the achievements of previous years. Kathy Oxtoby reports…

 

A priority for pharmacies supporting vulnerable patients this winter will be to offer both the influenza vaccination and the Covid booster jab. Pharmacies can expect a massive demand for these services.

Over 30 million people are being urged to take up ‘vital’ flu and Covid-19 vaccines, with the UKHSA warning of lower levels of natural immunity to flu this year, and increased coronavirus circulation.1

“Community pharmacies are well placed, at the heart of communities, to deliver vaccination programmes,” says RPS president Professor Claire Anderson. “Pharmacists and their staff undertake specific training requirements on an annual basis to deliver vaccination programmes on site.

“This means patient access to these programmes has widened significantly and has helped improve uptake of these programmes. Through ease of access and successful delivery of the programme, pharmacies are now recognised as key contributors to the success of the flu vaccination programme.”

Community pharmacy has also played “a fundamental role” in delivery of the Covid booster vaccination programme in some areas, she says.

However, Helga Mangion, policy manager at the NPA, would like to see community pharmacies on a “level playing field with other healthcare providers” when expression of interests about providing Covid vaccinations go out.”

“Up until now, pharmacies are selected to fill in gaps rather than treated as a first line choice by commissioners,” she says.

 

An amazing contribution

The UK is now entering its third year of combined Covid and flu vaccination programmes, with pharmacy contractors and their teams “learning from their experiences in previous years and wanting to build on their achievements”, says PSNC's director of NHS services, Alastair Buxton.

“Many pharmacies have already made an amazing contribution to the Covid vaccination efforts, and a large number have put themselves forward to take part in this year’s booster programme.”

Shaftesbury Pharmacy in Harrow is one such commissioned site. Its superintendent, Lila Thakerar, says pharmacists are being encouraged by the NHS to advise patients to have both vaccines at the same time when they make an appointment, and she is finding that “the majority of my patients are happy to do so”.

Olivier Picard, a National Pharmacy Association board member and owner of Newdays Pharmacy, says: “We use the Covid booking system so when people book a Covid jab and they come to the pharmacy, we systematically offer them a flu jab too. We’re doing hundreds of flu jabs a day as a result of this.”

It’s important to proactively promote the flu and Covid jabs, particularly to vulnerable patient groups. Ms Thakerar’s pharmacy sends out reminder text messages to patients on a yearly basis. But when patients come to collect their prescriptions, providing they meet the necessary criteria, she suggests they book an appointment to have their vaccinations, or take advantage of the pharmacy’s walk-in service.

Other ways she promotes the pharmacy’s vaccination services include having banners outside the store and handing out leaflets. “We need to use every means of communication to try and target all eligible patients for their vaccinations,” she says.

Pharmacies can also work with GPs to spread the word about their services. “Speak to your local surgery which may not be doing vaccinations at the practice and let them know you are providing NHS flu and Covid jabs,” says Lindsey Fairbrother, owner and superintendent pharmacist at Goodlife Pharmacy, Hatton.

“Through effective collaboration and communication with local GP services, the delivery of such programmes can be maximised for the benefits of local patient needs and this approach is essential for the promotion of all pharmacy services,” says Prof Anderson.

Nasal congestion – a frequent symptom

Nasal congestion is one of the most frequent symptoms encountered in primary care and often the most predominant symptom in upper respiratory tract disorders.2

The most common clinical syndromes that cause nasal congestion are upper respiratory viral infections (common colds), along with allergic rhinitis, vasomotor rhinitis, and chronic sinusitis.

Nasal congestion, in turn, can lead to sinusitis, otitis media, and the onset or worsening of mild to severe sleep disturbances, including obstructive sleep apnea.3

While there are a vast number of products available that pharmacy can offer during the winter months to help relieve cold and flu symptoms, decongestants are in demand, so this product area is one to promote in the coming winter months.

Studies have found that vapour rubs - essential oil mixtures of aromatics - are often an effective option for relieving the symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections. The benefits of aromatics also include better sleep, which is likely to help recovery.

Community pharmacies have a “key role to play in wider winter healthcare,” says PSNC’s Alastair Buxton. “Service developments in recent years, coupled with the impact of the pandemic, have seen the public and other healthcare professionals come to rely on them.

“Pharmacies are proving themselves time and again to be the most accessible healthcare locations, helping patients with a wide range of increasingly complex conditions and needs.”

 

References

  1. UK Health Security Agency (2022) Over 30 million people urged to take up ‘vital’ flu and COVID-19 vaccines. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/over-30-million-people-urged-to-take-up-vital-flu-and-covid-19-vaccines
  2. Nalcerio RM et al. (2010) Pathophysiology of nasal congestion. International Journal of Medicine. 2010 Apr 8;3:47-57. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/44593360_Pathophysiology_of_nasal_congestion
  3. Corey JP et al. (2000) Nasal congestion: a review of its etiology, evaluation, and treatment Ear Nose Throat J. 2000 Sep;79(9):690-3, 696, 698 passim. PMID: 11011488. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11011488/
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