In a letter to contractors and local pharmaceutical committees (LPCs) yesterday (February 16), NHS England and Improvement (NHE&I) hinted at a relaxation to some requirements to aid better coverage, as the national vaccination programme enters its second phase.
While contractors in general will still have to demonstrate that they can provide at least 1,000 jabs a week, NHSE&I is also asking for expressions of interest from contractors who could provide “up to 400 vaccines per week” where “a site offering 1,000 vaccines per week is unlikely to be viable, or where an additional site would offer significant benefits for specific patient cohorts”.
Supplementary to the letter, NHE&I released a list of areas it is keen to get better coverage across – including many postcodes in south London, the Midlands and the South East of England. The letter – signed by Dr Keith Ridge, England’s chief pharmaceutical officer, Emily Lawson, NHS chief commercial officer, and Ed Waller, director of primary care – noted that this list would be updated on Friday (February 19) “if additional areas are identified”.
“We want to offer our sincerest thanks in anticipation of your support to deliver this programme at a time when demands on pharmacy and the wider health system are significant,” the letter added.
In November, a “limited number” of pharmacies were asked to become vaccination sites – with 194 pharmacy-led sites now live, according to the NHSE&I website. The requirement that these sites be able to administer 1,000 vaccines across a seven-day week was something that “precludes many community pharmacies”, according to Labour Cooperative MP Rachael Maskell.
Last month, C+D launched a petition urging NHSE&I to scrap the 1,000 vaccines a week requirement and let more pharmacy teams across England pitch in with national COVID-19 vaccination efforts.
As the government reached its 15 million vaccination target on February 15 – an achievement described by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as an “extraordinary feat” – the new call suggests more pharmacies with a lower capacity will be able to join the vaccination effort.
Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMP) CEO Dr Leyla Hannbeck tweeted that she is “glad” to see NHSE&I reopening the designation process, as AIMp had been “campaigning hard for more pharmacies to be involved”.
Mark Lyonette, chief executive of the National Pharmacy Association, said: “It makes sense that more pharmacies will be joining the COVID vaccination effort, given the brilliant contribution of the early cohorts.”
While Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists' Association, said it is “a ‘win win’ for the public, the NHS and community pharmacies. More people will be able to receive their COVID jab close to their homes, rather than having to travel up to ten miles to visit a larger, regional vaccination site”.
Extra funding for residential vaccinations
According to a primary care bulletin released contemporaneously by NHE&I, pharmacy-led vaccination hubs will also be able to claim an extra £10 for each vaccine given in residential settings, such as care homes, homeless accommodation and to housebound patients. This is in addition to the £12.58 payment for each jab.
“Frustrating” for those initially rejected
Even though 194 pharmacy-led sites have so far been approved as vaccination hubs in the first phase of the rollout, many who applied were rejected.
That included Ronak Maroo, manager of Janssen’s Pharmacy in Bedford, who initially applied for three of his pharmacies to become COVID-19 vaccination sites in December. All three sites were rejected, with Janssens making it onto a shortlist before Mr Maroo was told by NHSE&I that his site would not be needed.
Now, Mr Maroo said he would likely apply again to become a vaccination site, however remarked that it was “quite frustrating” that he would have to go through the same submission process again.
“Surely they would just approach the people that have already sent an application in, rather than go through another round – because we’ve already done everything that they’ve asked for, in a sense,” he added.
NHSE&I was approached for comment, but had not responded by the time this article was published.