Government should use community pharmacies to deliver 24/7 COVID-19 vaccination service, says Labour leader

Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, has said he wants “to see every possible pharmacy deployed to help” in the COVID-19 vaccination programme.
Keir starmer

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The government should capitalise on community pharmacies’ offers to support the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine to help deliver a faster, 24/7 programme by the end of February 2021, Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, has said.

Six pharmacies across England began vaccinating patients against COVID-19 on 14 January 2021, including sites run by Boots, Superdrug and four independent pharmacies. Some 200 pharmacy sites are expected to start vaccinating over the following two weeks.

However, Starmer said on 14 January 2021 that he wants “to see every possible pharmacy deployed to help” in the COVID-19 vaccination programme.

The Labour leader called on the government to “match the nation’s ambition” for England to be the first country in the world to roll out the vaccine to the entire population.

“The whole country wants this rollout to succeed. We were the first to get the vaccine and if we get this right and pull together, I know we can be the first country to roll it out successfully,” said Starmer.

“To do that, the government needs to match the nation’s ambition with a 24/7 rollout, which harnesses all the expertise and dedication our country has to offer. Every high street has a pharmacy and I want to see every possible pharmacy deployed to help.”

His comments follow those made by prime minister Boris Johnson, who told the House of Commons on 13 January 2021 that the vaccine administration would be “going to 24/7 as soon as we can”.

Sandra Gidley, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), said that community pharmacies are keen to contribute to the national effort, with pharmacists already involved in hospitals and GP-led sites.

“RPS and other pharmacy organisations are working together with the government to progress the role of community pharmacists in the COVID-19 vaccination programme,” she said, adding that it is “eminently sensible to include more pharmacies where possible to increase the numbers of people who can get vaccinated”. 

However, Gidley said that providing a 24/7 NHS vaccination service would be “very challenging”.

“Many thousands of NHS workers are ill with COVID-19 or self-isolating, so staffing round-the-clock vaccinations would be an issue. The staff we do have are already working flat out and facing stress and burnout,” she said.

“Bringing more community pharmacies into the vaccination programme as it rolls out to increase capacity would seem a more logical option.”

Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA), said the CCA wants to “work with the NHS in England to make greater use of the army of community pharmacists who can administer the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine”.

“Using the established network of pharmacies would bring the vaccine into local communities, meaning older people and those in at-risk groups can be vaccinated much closer to home. We are continuing to work with the NHS to develop a model that will allow them to make use of pharmacies across the country to vaccinate the population, helping the NHS reach the target of 13.9 million vaccinations by mid-February [2021].”

In a statement on 10 January 2021, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) said the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England have agreed to work with community pharmacy bodies “on plans to ensure that community pharmacies are used to maximum effect in the COVID-19 vaccination programme”.

“All parties agree on the benefits of using more community pharmacies in the national vaccination effort, recognising that, for some patients, pharmacies will offer a convenient setting in which to be vaccinated in due course,” the PSNC said.

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Citation
The Pharmaceutical Journal, January 2021;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2021.20208740