Community pharmacies in England completed 1.71 million NHS flu vaccinations in 2019/20 – a 19.6 per cent jump from the previous year, recently published NHS Business Services Authority data shows.
The coming flu season, which kicks off in September, is expected to see record demand. Many of the patients most at risk from flu also face significant risk from Covid-19 infection, emphasising the need for a large-scale, effective flu jab programme in the run up to winter.
Demand is also likely to be high among the general population, and the Government is exploring whether to widen the eligibility criteria for receiving a free jab on the NHS – in particular, whether to offer it to everyone working in health or social care roles.
But even as Covid-19 sparks demand for what has been a highly successful pharmacy service, it is likely to make the delivery of flu vaccinations more challenging than ever before. PSNC has spoken out about the impact social distancing requirements could have on pharmacy’s unique selling point as a convenient, walk-in alternative to booking an appointment with a GP. In early July, PSNC issued guidance exploring some of the ways in which pharmacies could hold on to this advantage while upholding Covid-19 safety requirements, such as minimising time spent in the pharmacy and maintaining strict hygiene levels.
PSNC sought flexibility from Government and the NHS regarding where in the pharmacy patients can be given their jab. For example, if bringing the patient into the consultation room is a barrier to social distancing, PSNC argued teams should be allowed to use other locations, including “a retail area of the pharmacy”.
PSNC also said more off-site locations should be allowed, with local town halls, religious buildings and marquees set up outside the pharmacy being some suggestions. However, these pose their own challenges. A pharmacist providing a flu jab on the shop floor would need to carefully approach patient confi dentiality, and indemnity insurance would have to be thought through if providing the service outside the pharmacy. Infection control would be crucial in any setting.
As yet, no agreement has been reached on a more flexible approach. In addition, Public Health England had not yet confirmed what PPE pharmacy teams would need to wear, although PSNC anticipates that IIR surgical masks, eye protection and single-use gloves and aprons will be required.