Community pharmacy must take active lead on flu
Numark managing director Jeremy Meader and Numark member pharmacist Jignesh Patel call on all community pharmacies to rally together to maximise vaccine volumes this flu season…
While it comes as a disappointment that 50 to 64-year-olds will no longer be eligible for a free flu vaccination, this shouldn’t deter community pharmacies from really demonstrating what they collectively can do to arm communities against flu.
This is the year the sector must really work together and push to deliver services, especially flu vaccination programmes, so we continue to put the pressure on NHSE to value the role of community pharmacy.
It is so important pharmacies do all they can to help clear much higher flu volumes than in previous years. If everyone is united and can demonstrate an improvement in uptake of vaccinations, especially across care homes and those across at risk groups, community pharmacy would get much better recognition as vaccination providers.
Throughout the pandemic, we have pushed for community pharmacy to be recognised as centres of excellence for delivering vaccination volumes. While the sector’s full potential hasn’t been mobilised for Covid-19, the 22/23 flu season presents a fantastic opportunity for the sector to really demonstrate to NHSE its power to deliver and get the recognition it deserves as the vital third pillar of the healthcare system.
Community pharmacies are well positioned to help the NHS prepare for the unpredictability of flu. Not only are pharmacies a welcoming and accessible space for all, but they have the required skills and capabilities to deliver an extensive vaccination programme.
Flu vaccinations will continue to form the backbone of the pharmacy winter service agenda, but pharmacy teams must actively seek out the best way to ensure volumes are met in their localities – it’s time to put into action a clear plan of community defence and it’s good to see our members, such as Jignesh Patel, stepping up to the challenge and leading the way for others to follow.
This flu season I’m encouraging the industry to unite and demonstrate our ability as flu vaccination providers. Not only will this be instrumental in showing NHS England that the sector is deserving of investment, but it will also help secure an uptake of vaccinations across at-risk groups and support GPs with their vaccination efforts.
For this levelling up to occur, community pharmacy must overcome some barriers along the way, notably changing pharmacist outlooks on delivering vaccines. Many pharmacists don’t think that they have the time to provide vaccines and prefer to provide them on an ad-hoc basis. Therefore, it is imperative that pharmacies offer daily slots on an individual basis and encourage their teams to offer the vaccine to customers.
Over and above that, community pharmacy must build awareness of its value as a flu vaccination provider. Through rigorous marketing and community outreach, I urge pharmacy teams to do all they can to promote their flu vaccine offering.
Alongside spreading the word via in-branch marketing materials, pharmacies also need to focus on making the process easy for customers. Patients should be able to find their nearest pharmacy and book an appointment with ease. To be able to offer this easy service, pharmacies must have the correct stock of flu vaccines. With the recent changes to eligibility for free flu vaccinations, many have concerns over wasted vaccine stock, however the real issue is not about how much stock has been purchased, rather how the industry supplies the stock.
Pharmacies receive vaccine stocks after GPs and do not have access to purchase vaccines in bulk with priority delivery, meaning that some deliveries can come as late as the end of November inevitably, creating a bottleneck and making it difficult to predict whether the pharmacy will be left with dead stock. So, how do community pharmacies overcome this uncertainty?
It is the role of the sector, including Local Pharmaceutical Committees, to engage as early as possible with contractors, GPs and PCNs to determine how many vaccines they will require and avoid over ordering or under ordering.
Ultimately, through forward-planning, building awareness and harnessing the abilities born in the pandemic, community pharmacy can be a major player in the flu vaccination programme.
As such, I challenge my fellow pharmacists this flu season to champion our vaccination capabilities and do all they can to showcase community pharmacy’s pivotal role within the NHS healthcare system.