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Pharmacy-led sites to stay open for longer in COVID-19 booster jab drive

Community pharmacy-led COVID-19 vaccination sites in England will receive support to extend their opening hours and offer booster jabs “at their maximum capacity”, NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) has announced.

All vaccination sites – almost 1,500 of which are pharmacy-led – have been asked to operate 12 hours a day “as a standard, seven days a week”, NHSE&I wrote in a letter to vaccination service providers last night (December 13).

“In every community, there should be slots available at least 16 hours a day,” the national commissioner added.

More details of how pharmacies will be supported to increase capacity will be shared in an operational note.


Support from local systems


Clinical commissioning groups should offer “immediate additional administrative support to all primary care network and community pharmacy sites”, NHSE&I added, “to support the organisation and delivery of community outreach vaccination through the use of mobile and pop-up clinics”.

All adults over 18 will be able to book their booster from tomorrow (December 15). For this reason, NHSE&I is encouraging systems to help community pharmacy and GP-led teams to complete all housebound vaccinations “preferably by the end of week commencing December 13”.

Local commissioners also need to share details for sites that require additional vaccine deliveries on Thursday and Friday this week.

“All sites expecting a delivery on Tuesday can expect their volume doubled; for some sites, this will arrive on Tuesday, for others, an additional delivery day will be allocated later this week,” NHSE&I added.

Speaking during a webinar yesterday, NHSE&I CEO Amanda Pritchard hinted at the government’s intention to review the 15-minute waiting time requirement for booster doses.


Accelerating the booster programme


Portacabins and tents are ready to be deployed to existing sites, while vaccination sites have also been asked to add more appointments into their planning to make up for no-shows.

In an effort to accelerate the booster programme and ensure every adult gets their booster dose by the end of the year – as new evidence has shown two jabs do not offer enough protection against the Omicron variant – the government and NHSE&I are calling for thousands of volunteers to work alongside pharmacists, GPs and other providers.


Cut red tape to help pharmacies focus on vaccinations


Meanwhile, the Association of Independent Multiple pharmacies CEO, Leyla Hannbeck, has renewed calls for NHSE&I to suspend red tape for pharmacies to help them focus on vaccinations.

“What needs to happen is the government suspending the red tape, give us a level playing field to free up our workforce to support the programme, particularly with the tight deadline to vaccinate everyone by end of this month,” Dr Hannbeck added.

She also called for the government to scrap the 15-minute waiting time requirement, which she said “will free up a lot of staff time and space in pharmacy vaccination sites”

 “This will allow pharmacy teams to increase the number of vaccinations and accelerate the programme. We have discussed this with NHSE&I and are awaiting a decision from them soon,” she added.

Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) CEO Malcolm Harrison agreed that non-essential work should be reduced to free-up pharmacy teams to focus on vaccinations.

“The CCA has already called for pharmacy technicians to be added to the list of healthcare professionals who can administer the COVID-19 vaccine via a patient group direction  – this will help increase capacity in community pharmacy,” Mr Harrison added.

The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee has said that it is in “urgent discussions” with NHSE&I to understand how to ease current pressures on pharmacies, “following the Prime Minister’s announcement of an urgent upscaling of the COVID-19 booster campaign”.

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