Pharmacy leaders in ‘urgent talks’ with NHS as COVID-19 booster vaccination campaign is ramped up

Health secretary Sajid Javid has said the government will ask pharmacists to "do more" to help the government meet its new target of offering every eligible adult a COVID-19 booster by the end of December 2021.

The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has said it is in “urgent talks” with the NHS following news of the government’s drive to provide a COVID-19 booster jab to all eligible adults in England by the end of December 2021.

In a pre-recorded televised address, prime minister Boris Johnson announced on 12 December 2021 that the COVID-19 booster campaign would be accelerated further as the threat from the Omicron variant continues to grow.  

The prime minister previously said on 30 November 2021 that all eligible adults would be offered a COVID-19 booster jab by the end of January 2022, with pharmacy leaders calling for “unnecessary red tape” to be cut so that more pharmacies could participate in the booster campaign.

However, in his televised address, Johnson said: “In light of this Omicron emergency, I am bringing that target forward by a whole month,” with all eligible adults aged 18 years and over in England to be offered a “booster before the new year”.

In a statement following the prime minister’s announcement, Alastair Buxton, director NHS services at the PSNC, said: “As general practice turns its attention to the vaccination mission, we expect increasing numbers of patients to turn to pharmacies for help and, of course, vaccination centres are being asked to do as many vaccinations as they can as well.

“We are having urgent discussions with NHS on measures to help all contractors, both those offering vaccinations and those not, and hope to reach conclusions soon.”

Speaking on the BBC’s Today radio programme on 13 December 2021, health secretary Sajid Javid said new data on vaccine effectiveness against Omicron led the government to decide “to set a new national mission”.

“What it does mean, by the way, it means not just [that] we have new sites but we extend the opening hours, we open the sites seven days a week, we ask GPs and pharmacists to do more. We brought in 41 military planners in England to do this,” he said.

According to the latest available data from NHS England, published on 17 November 2021, 1,464 pharmacies are currently offering COVID-19 vaccinations, with the government having promised on 30 November 2021 to increase this to 1,500 to help with the booster campaign.

Gareth Jones, director of external and corporate affairs at the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), said that the NPA was also “in touch with NHS officials about the role of pharmacies in this intensified nationwide campaign”.

“Pharmacies have already given millions of COVID-19 jabs, including boosters, and there is potential for many millions more this winter,” he said.

Thorrun Govind, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s English Pharmacy Board, said it was vital “that future expressions of interest are processed as quickly as possible” by NHS England to enable more pharmacies to help deliver jabs.

“This also means urgently agreeing flexibilities for teams in community pharmacy and the wider NHS, such as rest breaks and pharmacy opening hours, and cutting bureaucracy, such as contract or audit requirements, so they can focus on what’s needed most,” she said.

Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive officer of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said its members were “seeing high demand for jabs from people who have not had one so far and for boosters” and called for pharmacies to be “treated the same as GPs, to speed up the jab delivery”.

“What needs to happen is the government suspending the red tape. Give us a level playing field to free up our workforce to support the programme, particularly with the tight deadline to vaccinate everyone by the end of this month,” she said.

On 3 December 2021, a letter from NHS England to all vaccination sites set out measures for general practice to increase capacity to delivery more vaccinations, including the suspension of some Quality Outcomes Framework measures and Investment and Impact Fund incentives.

However, the letter said that NHS England was still “discussing with the PSNC any further measures that may be required to support community pharmacy in delivering vaccinations”.

When asked for further details on how the government plans to enable pharmacies to deliver more vaccinations, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said more information would be provided “in due course”.

NHS England said it had “nothing further” to add to the prime minister and health secretary’s comments.

Read more: COVID-19 booster campaign — everything we know so far

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, December 2021, Vol 307, No 7956;307(7956)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2021.1.120231

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