Editor's view: Government needs a jab of common sense
Community pharmacy teams were subjected to two shocking U-turns on this autumn’s flu and Covid vaccine roll-out from a government that still lacks careful planning and foresight and continues to treat pharmacies shoddily, writes Neil Trainis…
With the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England, it’s like the blind leading the blind. Except we’re not sure who’s leading who.
We should have had measured, intelligent leadership on this autumn’s flu and Covid vaccination programme but instead we got panic, disorientation, an absolute dog’s dinner.
How community pharmacy teams are supposed to prepare to roll out vaccines when they’re told not once, but twice, that the start date has changed is beyond me. First it was September 1. Then it was October 7. Now it’s September 11.
I think we’ve learned by now that the government and NHSE has little consideration of the pressure community pharmacists are under and here is another explicit example of that.
Before the start date was shifted to October, did it not occur to DHSC and NHSE that pharmacies may have already ordered their stock of vaccines at great expense? Aside from buying the vaccines, as National Pharmacy Association chief executive Mark Lyonette rightly suggested last month, pharmacies would have had to bear the brunt of other costs including additional storage and staffing.
As it emerged that another Covid variant, BA.2.86, was on the loose, did it not occur to DHSC and NHSE that pharmacies might have paid for stock that will arrive in time for an October roll-out but not a September 11 start date, having had to hastily make alternative arrangements because of the first faux pas?
If I was a community pharmacist or pharmacy owner, I’d be thoroughly hacked off. But what else is new, right? They’ve been treated shoddily by the government for years. And the more you think about this, the more ridiculous, pathetic actually, it gets. Looking at the way Number 10 and the DHSC panicked over BA.2.86, you’d think they’d never had to deal with a pandemic before. Why didn’t they just stick with the original September 1 date?
Ok, there were “interim financial arrangements,” as NHSE described them, to help pharmacies deal with extra “administrative, organisational and delivery costs,” including an “additional acceleration payment of £10” for each Covid jab given to care home residents. But this could’ve been avoided with careful planning and foresight.
Community Pharmacy England’s director of NHS services Alastair Buxton struck the right note when he said it was “shambolic.”
“We understand and support the clinical need for this accelerated booster campaign and the acceleration payments for early vaccinations will make it more financially viable for some pharmacy owners to take part,” he said.
“But despite the good news on funding, in line with our repeated warnings to NHS England that the fees being offered were too low, for community pharmacies and other providers this has been a shambolic start to the winter vaccination programme. It simply isn’t efficient for pharmacies or other providers to work to a seemingly endlessly changing timetable.”
Time, he said, was “now incredibly tight for pharmacy teams to prepare for the start of the season” and he warned “the policy to-ing and fro-ing that we have seen this year must not be repeated.” One fears that will fall on deaf ears.
The NPA wrote to NHSE chief executive Amanda Pritchard to say its members had a legal case for compensation. I hope the NPA gets its lawyers in to ensure that, if nothing else, this doesn’t happen again.
The English Pharmacy Board chair Tase Oputu came across as calmer in her response to the situation. “The short notice changes to the start date for the winter vaccination programme have created confusion for pharmacy teams trying to make plans, and for the public. The government must plan ahead more decisively next year to avoid such uncertainty,” she said.
But so far, there’s been no promise from the government or NHSE that they will simply do better next time. No apology to community pharmacy teams. Then again, did we really expect them to offer those?
Neil Trainis is the editor of Independent Community Pharmacist.