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'NHSE must cut the red tape between pharmacies and COVID vaccines'

In an open letter to NHS chief Simon Stevens, C+D editor Beth Kennedy says that pharmacies shouldn’t have to jump through unnecessary hoops to join the COVID-19 vaccination effort

Dear Mr Stevens,

I hope this letter finds you well. I am writing to urge NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) to remove the unnecessary barriers preventing thousands of pharmacy teams across the country from joining the national COVID-19 vaccination programme.

As I have no doubt you are aware, community pharmacies must adhere to certain criteria before they can apply to administer the vaccines, which includes a stipulation that they must be able to deliver 1,000 vaccines a week. As one contractor told C+D yesterday (January 5), this would require pharmacies to administer around 12 vaccines per hour for 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

As NHSE&I acknowledged when it announced the criteria, that figure simply isn’t feasible for most pharmacies. It could only hope to find a “limited number” of eligible pharmacies. That strategy may have made more sense back when the Pfizer/BioNTech jab, with its tricky storage requirements, was the only vaccine available. But now another variant that can be kept in a normal fridge has been approved, the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab. The decision to exclude most pharmacies from the vaccination programme seems ludicrous.

The move has, understandably, caused huge amounts of frustration among pharmacy teams, who have told C+D they are “ready, willing and able” to get involved in the vaccination programme.

Pharmacy teams simply cannot fathom why only the very small number of pharmacies that would be able to deliver 1,000 vaccinations per week – a rather arbitrary number to pull out of the air – are able to take on the vaccination service. Collectively, thousands more pharmacies have greater capacity than a “limited” few pharmacy-led hubs to administer far more jabs, far more quickly.

After all, pharmacy has consistently shown how much of a difference it can make to vaccine uptake over the past few years. Indeed, English community pharmacy teams smashed their own 2019/20 flu vaccination record within just two months this season – administering more than 1.7 million jabs by the end of October.

Given the extraordinary job that pharmacy teams have done during the COVID-19 pandemic – often being patients’ only accessible primary care provider – it seems churlish to all but exclude them from a scheme to which they could offer so much help and expertise.

Boris Johnson told parliament today (January 6) that there is a “vital role that can be played by pharmacies” in the vaccine rollout. I have no doubt that this is true. I question why, when even the Prime Minister seems cognisant of the potential impact that pharmacy teams could have on the vaccine scheme, NHSE&I seems to remain unconvinced.

NHSE&I told C+D yesterday that it is considering how more pharmacists could get involved in the coming days and weeks – but if pharmacy teams are not able to help out with COVID-19 vaccinations now, then when? How many more lives will be needlessly lost to a disease for which there are now two types of approved vaccine?

I therefore urge you to rethink this matter and promptly remove the needless red tape preventing the majority of England’s pharmacy teams from helping with national vaccination efforts. The time to act is now, and I hope you will do so as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

Beth Kennedy,

Editor, C+D

Sign the petition to allow all community pharmacies in England to offer COVID-19 vaccinations here

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