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Wicker Pharmacy’s homeless vaccine programme plugs ‘obvious gap'

With no extra funding, Wicker Pharmacy’s team have delivered COVID-19 vaccines to previously unreached homeless people in Sheffield.

Wicker Pharmacy’s homeless vaccine outreach programme has helped 55 individuals protect themselves from COVID-19 and influenza so far this year, its new superintendent pharmacist Laura Willey told C+D this week.

On Thursday (December 7), C+D reported that Ms Willey had taken over from renowned pharmacist Martin Bennett as Wicker Pharmacy’s superintendent pharmacist.

Since she joined the pharmacy, she said that she has been meeting with the local integrated care boards (ICB) and charities, aided by Mr Bennett’s well-earned credentials.

Read more: New superintendent for Wicker Pharmacy as Martin Bennett retires

As the start of the vaccination season began, Ms Willey and members of her team travelled to the Sunday Centre, a Sheffield not-for-profit organisation that “serves Sheffield’s homeless and vulnerable” in the Victoria Hall Methodist Church.

The Sunday Centre’s “phenomenal team of volunteers” regularly provides over 100 hot meals and other items to people, Ms Willey said.

She added that a local commissioner put her in touch with the leaders of the event. “We were really lucky that we got the permission to do offsite vaccinations for COVID-19,” she said.


“Never accessed” COVID-19 jabs before


In the first week, on November 5, Ms Willey said that the team – herself, another pharmacist and a trainee pharmacy technician “used to dealing with busy sessions” – provided over 20 flu vaccinations and over 20 COVID-19 vaccinations, with people receiving both or one of the two.

In the second week, the team set up outside the centre. In addition to providing more vaccines, they also found that people recognised the team and would ask them questions about their medication, among other things. Ms Willey also did a further “mop up” session.

Read more: Pharmacy Wicker man awarded MBE

She said that “some of the people” who had been vaccinated in the first week had “never accessed the COVID-19 vaccine before despite being eligible”. 

And she told C+D that Wicker Pharmacy had not received funding for this initiative, other than the money they would receive in the normal course of vaccinating people.


“Obvious gap in provision”


Ms Willey said that the programme sought to close an “obvious gap in provision” for people that accessed the services of Sheffield’s homeless charities.

“It’s the right thing to do,” she said.

Ms Willey told C+D that many homeless people in Sheffield find themselves falling through the cracks of the public health system, “either through no fault of their own or just circumstances”. With no fixed abode, they sometimes “don’t exist in the GP world”.

She said that Wicker Pharmacy’s programme helped members of the homeless community access vaccination services and the other services the pharmacy offers such as medicines provision.

Read more: Sheffield pharmacist’s ‘pioneering vision’ lands him spot on NHS awards shortlist

Ms Willey said that Wicker Pharmacy wants people to “know that they can access stuff” through the pharmacy.

But the programme is just the latest iteration of the Sheffield city centre pharmacy’s community-focused “patient first” ethos, and Ms Willey told C+D that she intends to “step into Martin’s shoes” to keep that at the forefront of the pharmacy.

“We've got a few ideas around what else we can do to make our independent prescribing pathway clinics really work for the local community,” said Ms Willey. These might include initiatives that are hosted in places outside of the pharmacy, she told C+D. 

Michael Burston, volunteer coordinator and trustee at the Sunday Centre, told C+D that the centre’s guests “don't often” engage with health organisations “unless for emergencies”.

Mr Burston said that the Wicker team’s “invaluable” contribution allowed it to expand its service to include vaccinations.

He added that he hoped Ms Willey and the team might “expand” their work to include blood pressure checks and a minor ailments service in the future.

“Sometimes all a guest may need is someone to listen to them,” said Mr Burston, adding that the “engaging” and “personable” Wicker Team had led “barriers to be broken down quickly”.


Big ambitions


Wicker Pharmacy’s “patient first” ethos was established by its chair and former superintendent Mr Bennett

But Mr Bennett told C+D yesterday (December 7) that the homeless community outreach programme was driven by Ms Willey.

Her introduction to the pharmacy in July meant that the programme could take off, as “for a long time, we've been running one pharmacist short”, he said.

Read more: Sheffield pharmacy is first rated 'excellent'

“We always add ambitions,” said Mr Bennett. He said that the pharmacy had previously done outreach for flu vaccinations, using his motor caravan. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Wicker Pharmacy’s staff would visit care homes and a hospice to administer vaccinations. “We'd park the van outside and put the awning out and then they came into the carpark [and] had the vaccinations,” he said.

“We were looking at doing more in that line [but were] short of sufficient people to do it,” he said. When Ms Willey arrived at the pharmacy, she “jumped at the chance” to develop the programme. 

Read more: Scotland to roll out national naloxone service as pharmacy saves two lives

Mr Bennett added that “there's a lot more” that the pharmacy can do along those lines and “hopefully in the next year or so she'll be able to take it further”.

Mr Bennett encouraged community pharmacies to participate in “the committees that make decisions about how to develop health ideas”, describing it as “enlightening”.

He said that things that health committees will say are “so difficult to do”, a community pharmacist would reply “we could easily do that” if provided with resources.

“I think there are a lot of very good ideas out there that people are doing that don't often get the full publicity,” said Mr Bennett. “That's where [C+D] comes in.”

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