According to NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens, we are likely to face another tough flu season this winter, with additional pressure on already stretched GP surgeries, hospitals and care homes. As a result, the NHS has been put on high alert.
Strange then that last month Andrew Green, GP clinical and prescribing policy lead at the British Medical Association (BMA), slammed the pharmacy flu service by telling C+D the scheme “undermined good working relationships” between GP practices and community pharmacies which could have “long-term implications that reach well beyond the flu campaign”.
Fortunately wiser heads have prevailed at NHS England, which has confirmed that the community pharmacy seasonal influenza vaccination advanced service will continue in 2017-18, and is now in full swing for the third year running.
According to the NHS Business Services Authority (BSA), community pharmacies in England delivered a total of nearly one million flu vaccinations last season. Could GP surgeries really cope with that volume attending their surgeries? How many higher-risk patients would be missed?
It seems to me that community pharmacy has demonstrated beyond all doubt that it has a central role to play alongside GPs in ensuring that those who need the flu vaccination have convenient access to this important service. To paraphrase a famous beer advert, pharmacy can reach parts of the community which other healthcare providers struggle to reach.
If you accept that flu vaccination through community pharmacy has been a success, then logic dictates that a wider range of services – such as treating minor ailments – also ought to be available. In this context, Public Health England’s (PHE) recently published paper – Pharmacy: A Way Forward for Public Health – provides commissioners with a comprehensive menu of services which community pharmacy can – and in my view should – provide.
Why then the reticence of some GPs, like Dr Green, regarding a pharmacy flu service, despite the endorsement by NHS England and PHE? Perhaps it is because they perceive pharmacy as “competing” for those who would otherwise attend the surgery’s regular flu clinic.
Insofar as a GP has concerns, surely the thing to do is discuss these professional-to-professional with their local pharmacy colleagues. That is the kind of patient-centric partnership working we should be aiming for, not issuing veiled threats of “long-term implications”.
Steve Anderson is managing director of Phoenix Healthcare Distribution Ltd in the UK, part of the Phoenix group of companies operating across Europe