For the last few years, around the same time, I’ve received a WhatsApp message from my mum – who is also a registered carer – letting me know she’s had her flu jab at her local pharmacy. The adjectives she uses are usually complementary – ‘pleasant’, ‘efficient’ and ‘professional’. “I walked in and the pharmacist said they could vaccinate me there and then,” she says. For her, and many others, this access is essential and a huge part of the reason why the national pharmacy flu scheme is so popular.
I have tried to convey this in my letter to Dr Andrew Green, clinical and prescribing policy lead at the British Medical Association (BMA). The comments Dr Green gave to C+D at the end of the summer, suggesting that the pharmacy flu service could damage pharmacist-GP relationships, alarmed me. Dr Green even expressed surprise that the service had been recommissioned, and suggested that there is no evidence it increases uptake of the vaccination.
It became clear this autumn that once again this attitude has filtered down from the medical leadership to individual GP practices. I was saddened to yet again receive messages on Twitter from pharmacists concerned about their GP practice's tactics. However, it was only when reports came in that a practice in Doncaster had threatened to withhold prescriptions from patients if they got their flu jab elsewhere, that I decided to step up C+D’s response. It is completely unacceptable to put patients at risk.
Community pharmacists around England have been putting their all into the flu service – so much so that nearly 900,000 vaccinations have already been delivered. Not only is this convenient for the public, but it gives the opportunity for a pharmacist to sit down, one-to-one with a patient and have a conversation – who knows what other health issues they could raise?
It’s important to acknowledge that GPs are under severe financial constraints, just like their pharmacist equivalents. But surely if GPs worked closely and effectively with the community pharmacy sector, before the flu season starts, this could cut appointment lists and free up some valuable time?
I have called on Dr Green to publicly express support for the pharmacy flu service. I hope at the very least, he reads C+D’s letter and acknowledges the support the pharmacy scheme has received from patients, health bodies and commissioners.
Here’s hoping that next year, my inbox isn’t filled with screenshots of notices produced by GP practices to deter patients. Instead, I hope to see more positive reports of joint working – and I’m sure another flu-related WhatsApp from my mum.