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Pharmacies should ‘step up’ flu comms to reach minorities, peer says

The government should ask pharmacies to “step up” their flu jab communications to better reach people from certain ethnic minorities, a Conservative peer has said.

In south Asian communities there might be more people who are “slightly resistant to going into pharmacies to get flu jabs”, Indian-British life peer Baroness Verma said during a COVID-19 update in parliament last week (September 14).

“I know from my experience of having to persuade my mother that this is an issue,” Baroness Verma added.

She said that encouraging people to get the flu vaccination sooner rather than later would help them “build up their immunity as quickly as possible”.

Responding to her statements, Lord Bethell, parliamentary under-secretary of state for health and social care, said he will take the suggestion “back to the department”.

“I trust that the pharmacy profession will be doing an enormous amount to promote the flu injection itself, and to reassure its customers about the efficacy of its service,” he said.

“Stepping up to the challenge for years”

In response to Baroness Verma’s comments, Gurinder Singh – Boots community pharmacist and lecturer in pharmacy practice at the University of Reading – told C+D last week (September 16) that community pharmacies “have been stepping up to the challenge for years now and reaching out to their local communities” during the flu season.

“Pharmacy is in a good place to address the issue of those with a south Asian background [who are] reluctant to have a flu jab – due to its diverse workforce. Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) pharmacists are aware of and understand cultural needs well, so can play a positive part in the health and wellbeing of those from a BAME background,” he said.

However, engagement with the BAME community should be a “priority” for the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) and Public Health England, rather than “solely up to pharmacies”, Mr Singh said. This is to ensure disparities are not created across “our diverse nation”, he added.

Sanjay Ganvir, superintendent pharmacist at the employee-owned co-operative Green Light Pharmacy, told C+D last week (September 18) that pharmacists and their teams have “a very good understanding of their communities”.

“Indeed, the majority of pharmacy staff live in the immediate area of their pharmacy, so actually are part of the community,” he said. Several of Green Light’s pharmacies are in areas with very high south Asian populations. We carry out very high numbers of flu vaccinations for this section of patients, as we do for all our patients,” Mr Ganvir added.

Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) CEO Leyla Hannbeck told C+D last week (September 16) that many AIMp members are “actively promoting the flu vaccination service in their local communities”. The organisation looks forward to seeing a national NHS England campaign encouraging all those who are eligible, “including in BAME communities”, to get their flu jab, she added.

A National Pharmacy Association spokesperson told C+D last week (September 18) that many of its member pharmacies operate in some of the “country’s most diverse communities”.

“Pharmacy has a track record of reaching parts of the population that might otherwise be left unprotected,” the spokesperson said, adding that it will be important for GPs and pharmacists to join forces to “get at-risk groups vaccinated”.

Pharmacies in England will be paid a “combined value” of £10.08 per vaccination during the 2020-21 flu season, it was announced last week. The service is, for the first time, backed by a “joint incentive scheme” to help pharmacies and GP practices work collaboratively to meet targets.

What can be done to make sure all eligible patients get their flu jabs?

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