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Pharmacies in Scotland start to pick up vaccine services as these are moved away from GPs

Community pharmacies in Scotland may be commissioned to offer some vaccination services as health boards start to diverge from a GP-based vaccination model.

The Scottish Government announced in 2017 that it envisaged moving away from “a model based on GP delivery to one based on NHS Board delivery through dedicated teams” as part of a bid to reduce GPs' workload.

The Vaccination Transformation Programme (VTP) began on April 1, 2018, with the aim of modernising how vaccine services are delivered in Scotland.

Martin Morrison, operations director for Test and Protect at NHS National Services Scotland (NSS), told C+D last week (November 18) that the new "mixed model of vaccination" will partly be delivered by individual health boards and other providers – including pharmacies.

However, he added that while vaccination services were generally being moved away from GPs in Scotland, this would not necessarily be the case throughout the whole country.

“For example, in some remote or rural areas, GPs may continue with vaccinations," he said.

The VTP was originally due to roll out this new model by 2021, Mr Morrison added, but delays due to COVID-19 have shifted this back to April 2022.

The Scottish Government has been approached for comment.


What does the new model look like at a local level?


Six of the 14 health boards contacted by C+D responded to questions about what the new vaccination model will look like in their locality.

Dr Mark Russell, the associate medical director at North Lanarkshire Health and Social Care Partnership, told C+D: “Our plans to completely move vaccine delivery from GPs to NHS Lanarkshire are on track to meet the national deadline of April 1, 2022.”

He added: “The operational details of this are being discussed and we are exploring various options. These options include services being delivered by other providers including community pharmacies.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for NHS Ayrshire and Arran told C+D that while community pharmacy is a popular route to receive a seasonal flu vaccine, the board is still “determining the best options to deliver vaccinations and immunisations”.

However, both NHS Highlands and NHS Forth Valley confirmed to C+D that their vaccination programmes will continue to be supported by local GP practices in more rural areas.

A spokesperson for NHS Highlands said: “Pharmacies and GP practices are essential to the vaccination programme in remote and rural areas, where mass vaccination clinics are impractical.”


Provision of travel vaccinations


NHS Grampian told C+D that in that locality, travel vaccinations, "elements" of the flu vaccination service and "currently a limited input to COVID-19 vaccinations” have already been transferred from GP practices to community pharmacies ahead of the April 2022 deadline.

While “travel has already transferred with 31 community pharmacies now providing this service across Grampian”, the spokesperson added, “we currently have 65 pharmacies signed up to deliver flu vaccinations for NHS Grampian and 16 pharmacies have opted in to deliver 55 additional clinics for COVID-19 boosters”.

NHS Tayside consultant in public health pharmacy, Dr Andrew Radley, told C+D that the health board had “recently agreed that community pharmacy will take a leading role in providing a travel immunisation service from April 2022, in line with the VTP”.

NHS Tayside “actively reviews” the most appropriate combination of providers to deliver vaccinations, Mr Radley added.


Must be “mindful of the needs of local pharmacy networks”


In response to NSS, Matt Barclay, the director of operations at Community Pharmacy Scotland, told C+D: “We are aware of the VTP as part of the changing arrangements with regards to the general medical services contract in Scotland.

“Responsibility for provision of these services then sits with health boards within the legislation and it is on a local level that they can discuss with local pharmacy networks about delivering appropriate vaccinations based on local population needs."

He added: “We have had vaccinations in our policy asks for a while now so would encourage this engagement at a local level, being mindful of the needs of the local pharmacy networks and patients with these services. Community pharmacy can provide an accessible, sensible option for these services as evidenced elsewhere in the UK.”

In September, Scotland began its expanded 2021/2022 flu immunisation programme, allowing “more people than ever” to receive a flu vaccination. In the government’s first circular providing details of the programme, published in July, it emphasised that “GP practices are not the preferred delivery model for vaccinations”.

Earlier today (November 22), C+D reported that NHS Scotland had appointed AAH as its “exclusive solus provider” of seasonal influenza vaccines to community pharmacies for the next 12 months.


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