This year more than ever, the pharmacy NHS Flu Service will play a huge part in protecting people from flu and in reducing the winter pressures on the NHS from both flu and COVID-19 which is at risk of a second peak.
The coronavirus outbreak has thrown up so many challenges for pharmacy, and although there is a perceived temporary lull with schools breaking up and people venturing on much needed holidays, we all know that we are still living in the shadow of the virus, with the introduction of compulsory wearing of face masks in shops being the latest stark reminder of this ‘new normal’.
And while everyone else is thinking about the summer, for pharmacy, thoughts are jumping ahead to winter and preparing for the start of the flu season in September.
This time, like everything else inside and outside of pharmacy, things will be different. Why? Because it’s likely that flu and COVID-19 will be co-circulating and this will add even more burden on people’s health this winter and on NHS emergency services. Until there is a COVID-19 vaccine, the Government’s focus is on giving the flu jab to as many eligible people as possible and as early in the season as possible. It is estimated more than 30 million people will be included in the eligibility criteria for 2020-21
So what are the challenges and how can you prepare?
Ensuring everyone who is eligible is vaccinated
The same people who are vulnerable to coronavirus are also eligible for a free NHS flu jab so giving them the flu jab will keep them in good health if they do contract COVID-19.
As well as inviting people who you vaccinated in the last flu season to return, you can also contact people who are eligible and who may have missed our or didn’t take up the offer. Explaining the importance of the flu jab in protecting their health in the context of coronavirus may see a higher uptake in this group than before.
The Government has also announced new eligible groups entitled to the flu jab, including 50-64 year olds and people in the household of those who need to shield. Children in the first year of secondary school (Year 7) are also being invited to have the nasal vaccine through the surgery, so remind parents of this. In addition, there is indication that all frontline health and social care workers will also be urged to get vaccinated to protect themselves and their patients or residents from the flu and these will also add to the demand of your flu service.
Vaccinating people as early as possible
The earlier people get the flu vaccine the earlier they are protected and the Government is pushing for that to happen. Pharmacy can help with by starting to promote the availability of the pharmacy flu service from now through posters, leaflets, social media, emails and through conversations in the pharmacy, using brief interventions and making every contact count (MECC).
Coping with capacity
The pharmacy NHS flu service was up 20% in 2019/20 compared to the previous year, with over 1.7 million jabs claimed for by the end of March. It is likely more people will be taking up the flu vaccine this year. This plus the expansion of the eligible groups means you’ll need to think about the logistics of offering this service while running the other regular functions of the pharmacy. Some pharmacies are looking at starting an appointment system and starting to book people in now so no one is disappointed.
Following social distance restrictions
The PSNC is also discussing giving pharmacy flexibility in how they deliver the service with some suggestions of offering off-site clinics to allow for appointments in a COVID-safe manner that don’t need the consultation room and following social distancing, but there are yet to be agreed. There has also been discussions around the best way of handling the required paperwork (online forms are being considered) to minimise patient contact time in the pharmacy.
Public Health England has confirmed that pharmacists who have undertaken face to face vaccination training before and are due a refresher this year (2020/21), can delay it until next year. Support staff can do inhouse refresher training on delivering the service and can remind themselves of the SOP and any updates to reflect COVID-19 consideration.
Getting the team prepared
Briefing the team early on how the pharmacy service is delivered will be important to the smooth delivery of the service. Roles and responsibilities need to be allocated so everyone is ready to start spreading the message to customers about the service, making appointments and offering the right support for the consultations themselves.
What support staff can do
✅Complete refresher training on the pharmacy flu service
✅Invite everyone who had the flu jab last year to book in again this year
✅Explain the importance of the flu jab in light of COVID-19 to anyone who is eligible for a free NHS flu jab but who didn’t take it up last year
✅Encourage parents of children who are eligible for the flu nasal vaccine to get vaccinated
✅Remember MECC – to make every count
Pharmacies delivering the NHS flu service have a tremendous opportunity to help with reducing winter NHS pressures in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. It reaffirms pharmacy’s frontline position and showcases your valuable healthcare role at the heart of the community, introducing new patients and customers to your team’s expertise and extensive suite of clinical services, wellbeing advice and self care products.
To help you and your team prepare, check out our modules:
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This article was written on behalf of Mediapharm by Nicola Hasted from Pharmacy Mentor.