The government is “planning in detail for winter” and expects high demand for NHS services, Mr Hancock said during his keynote address at the annual National Pharmacy Association (NPA) conference – this year held virtually – today (July 13).
In preparation for the coldest months of the year, the government is working on a “combination of the COVID-19 vaccination programme”, should a vaccine be found, and setting out its intention to deliver the “biggest flu vaccine programme in history”, Mr Hancock said.
“We have procured enough vaccines to be able to deliver on that, but it is a big task to get the vaccines into people’s arms. We'll need teamwork across the board to make that happen,” he added.
Pharmacies and vaccines
Community pharmacies in England will have an “important role to play” in the flu vaccination programme rollout, Mr Hancock said. However, he did not at this stage offer details on the sector's role in delivering an eventual COVID-19 vaccine.
He told NPA conference attendees that the government is working on “how a COVID-19 vaccine rollout will work and we’re going to, frankly, use all of the capabilities that are disposable, to deliver the vaccines programmes that we need to in the months ahead”.
In May, NHS England and Improvement sent a letter to contractors, which said that the list of patients eligible to receive the flu jab free of charge could be expanded this year.
The Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) last week published a policy document calling for ‘urgent change’ to the delivery of this season’s flu service, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rollout of clinical services
Some services that pharmacies were expected to start delivering this year under the Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework had to be paused due to COVID-19, but that pause "is temporary and for as short a period as possible”, Mr Hancock said.
The government is committed to expanding services that “we agreed to and set out in the framework”, Mr Hancock explained – alluding to the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS).
CPCS referrals from GP practices to community pharmacy, which the contractual framework said could be rolled out nationally “as early as April”, were not extended due to the pandemic.
“I look forward to the rollout of more clinical services, with the goal that all [pharmacists] should operate at the top of their qualification, at the top of their licence, engaging with and supporting the community that we serve to get the very best possible treatment as close to home as possible,” Mr Hancock said.
Responding to a question from an NPA member, he clarified that pharmacies will be paid for any new service they are asked to offer.
“As we offer pharmacies more and more services, we need to make sure of course that we’re paying properly for those services,” he said.