Number of pharmacies offering NHS COVID-19 jabs rockets to almost double
Thousands more pharmacies in England will offer a COVID-19 vaccination service this season despite slashed fees and a confusing start to the programme, C+D has learned.
Almost double the number of community pharmacies will be offering the 2023/24 NHS COVID-19 vaccination service compared to last season, a freedom of information (FOI) request submitted to NHS England (NHSE) by C+D has revealed.
NHSE told C+D this week (September 27) that so far “3,267 community pharmacy sites have been designated for the autumn/winter 2023/24 campaign”.
However, it said that it could not “give a final number” as it has “not yet completed the processing of all expressions of interest” – so this figure may continue to grow.
This is a 97% increase compared to the 2022/23 season, when 1,655 pharmacies were designated to offer the service.
At the same time, the number of pharmacies that expressed interest in running the service has also increased, according to the new data.
The number of unique pharmacies that expressed interest in providing the service rose by almost a third (30%), up from 2,954 last season to 3,830 this season – plus another 123 expressions of interest to provide the service at a site away from a pharmacy.
However, NHSE stressed that the number of expressions of interest is “not directly comparable” as the process was “structured differently” in 2022/23.
C+D analysis of the data shows that the acceptance rate for pharmacies wishing to run the service has increased too.
While last season, just 56% of pharmacies that expressed an interest in the service made the cut, this season 85% of pharmacies have been approved by the commissioner so far.
“Understandable and necessary”
The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) told C+D yesterday (September 28) that it had noticed an “upturn in applications” for its pharmacist indemnity cover for the administration of COVID-19 vaccinations.
And it pointed out that the increase in community pharmacy-led clinics is “understandable and necessary” because “most” large-scale vaccination centres closed at the end of 2022 and have not re-opened, significantly reducing capacity.
The union added that “not all primary care network (PCN) and GP-led clinics are operating at the same level” as previous seasons of the vaccination programme.
Warning against "excessive workload”
It stressed that employers must ensure they “carry out an effective risk assessment for the clinics they plan to run, ensuring they have adequate space, facilities and suitably trained staff to run a safe and efficient service in addition to running their normal daily pharmaceutical services”.
And it highlighted that pharmacists should use their “professional judgement” to manage “appointment capacity in order to safely manage their workload”.
“We are well aware of the pressure that pharmacy teams are under during the run up to the Christmas break with flu and now COVID-19 vaccinations on top of their usual intense workload,” the PDA said.
It added that contractors planning clinics must employ “sufficient additional pharmacists and support staff to ensure the safe delivery of the service to patients and to prevent staff being subject to excessive workloads and the physical and mental harm this can cause”.
A surprising increase?
The increase comes despite contractors previously suggesting that they were reluctant to offer NHS COVID-19 jabs.
A snapshot survey conducted by C+D last month revealed that 74% of 156 contractors said they would not be offering the COVID-19 jab in their pharmacy for the upcoming season.
It followed the news that NHSE would reduce the fee paid to community pharmacies for COVID-19 vaccinations by 25% from £10 to £7.54.
But at the end of August, NHSE announced that additional payments would be available for pharmacies administering COVID-19 vaccinations in September and October.
Earlier this month, sector leaders criticised “short notice” changes to the start date of the services, after the government announced that both COVID-19 and flu vaccination programmes would be brought forward.
Meanwhile, C+D revealed last week that COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers are “exploring” the potential of providing their jabs privately – with one multiple “currently…gathering information to access whether it’s a viable option”.