Chief Executive’s blog: March 2021

By Chief Executive Simon Dukes

Tucked away in a recent email from NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) was a short message of thanks to pharmacies and GP practices along with some updated data. The topic of the update was this season’s flu vaccination success, with pharmacies being thanked for their contributions to the programme. The data showed that the flu vaccine had been given to more than 19 million people this season – that’s over 4 million more than last year.

All well and good. Yet a further dig into PSNC-held vaccination data shows just how much community pharmacies have contributed to the success of this important programme. As of 22nd March this year, pharmacies had administered over 2.6 million of those jabs. We know that our data, provided by PharmOutcomes and Sonar, slightly undercounts the actual numbers of people vaccinated by pharmacies – last year our numbers peaked at 1.5 million, but the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) reported that pharmacies vaccinated 1.7 million people – so this figure may be nearer 3 million.

You will already be ahead of me, but that means community pharmacies have vaccinated over 1 million more people than last season. That represents about 25% of the overall growth in the flu vaccination programme this season – far more than our usual share of around 10-12% of the total programme. That means we have far surpassed general practice this year in terms of growing the flu vaccination service that we offer. In fact, in September alone, community pharmacy jabbed nearly 1 million patients.

To achieve this sort of growth in any circumstances would be impressive, but to do so during a pandemic, alongside the severe financial pressures contractors are under, while continuing to dispense a billion prescriptions and offer healthcare advice to more than a million people every week, is nothing short of phenomenal. It shows just how committed pharmacies are to their patients, finding innovative ways of working, and delivering on NHS priorities in very challenging circumstances.

None of this will be a surprise to anyone who works in a community pharmacy. But as we look towards the start of the delayed negotiations on year 3 of the five-year Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework (CPCF) deal, this has never been more important. We need the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHSE&I to come into these negotiations ready not only to demand what pharmacies can do for the NHS, but to talk about what investment is needed in order for pharmacies to do even more. To quote a senior and influential MP I was talking to the other day: “I have never seen an inefficient pharmacy” – I’m not sure there are many other places in the NHS where that applies?

If pharmacies are to better support patients and the rest of the NHS, I would suggest that there are few better places to start than vaccinations. Pharmacies’ track record on flu is second to none. We already know that the NHS wants to look to us for help with travel vaccinations. And pharmacies, as the most accessible NHS healthcare locations, are ideally placed to take on the burden of annual COVID-19 boosters as and when those are needed, leaving general practitioners free to return to the vital task of seeing their patients and saving lives. It is a natural progression to be involved in other vaccinations too.

Why should anyone need to go anywhere other than a pharmacy for a jab?