Commissioning community pharmacies to provide a wider range of NHS vaccinations could “drive improved uptake”, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has said.
In response to a consultation carried out by NHS England, the PSNC said it supported NHS plans to offer COVID-19 vaccinations as “a seasonal service” and to “explore how to integrate COVID-19 vaccination with other vaccinations offered to similar groups of people at similar times”.
The plans, published on the Community Pharmacy South Central (CPSC) website on 11 August 2022, formed part of a “market engagement process” to build “on the success of and the learning from our existing COVID-19, flu and routine immunisation programmes” and to “support local systems to deliver responsive, community-focused NHS vaccination provision”.
The market engagement notice, published on the government’s website and updated on 22 September 2022, added that NHS England expects “to develop a commissioning framework that enables an integrated approach to vaccinations in 2023/24” following the consultation.
In its response to the consultation in September 2022, the PSNC said it “believes the commissioning of a wider range of NHS vaccinations from pharmacies could support the achievement of increased vaccination levels”.
“Pharmacies pride themselves on providing convenient vaccination services, in terms of time and location, such as the walk-in offer that most provide for the NHS flu vaccination service,” the response says.
“Many pharmacies also offer extensive private vaccination services, with a particular focus on travel vaccination. These services have to compete with alternative options available to patients on the basis of convenience and quality of service.”
The response adds that the use of a National Enhanced Service to commission pharmacies to provide the COVID-19 vaccination service from September 2022 “is a positive development, which supports some national standardisation… while allowing local decisions on the best placed pharmacies to meet the needs of the local population”.
“We believe a similar approach could be adopted to commission a wider range of vaccinations from pharmacies, helping the NHS to tackle low uptake levels in some of its vaccination programmes and in specific areas,” it continues.
Figures published by NHS Digital and the UK Health Security Agency show that vaccination rates for children in England fell for 13 of the 14 routine vaccination measures in 2021/2022, with none of the vaccinations meeting the World Health Organization target of 95% uptake.
In a statement published alongside its consultation response on 27 September 2022, the PSNC added that participation in a national vaccination service “can only be considered with additional remuneration above the current global sum in the community pharmacy contractual framework”.
The PSNC’s consultation response comes after it announced the outcome of contract negotiations with the government on 22 September 2022, which promised to write-off £100m of medicine margin owed by pharmacy contractors, but included no uplift in the overall annual funding for the sector.
Alastair Buxton, director of NHS services at the PSNC, said: “We’ve always known, and the evidence supports this, that community pharmacies are one of the most popular and accessible places for people to receive a range of vaccinations.
“In the longer term, if the right funding and support is in place, many pharmacies could help deliver a much wider range of NHS vaccination programmes — giving the public the convenience and service that they want, and taking pressure off our general practice colleagues,” he added.
According to the plans published on the CPSC website, the NHS consultation, which opened on 7 July 2022 and will run until 7 October 2022, will inform “draft proposals for a future vaccination strategy”, with plans to “produce headline recommendations in autumn 2022 to enable us to put the building blocks in place for the potential implementation of some changes in or from 2023/2024”.