‘Timing’ of letters to patients may be causing low COVID-19 vaccination booking rates for pharmacy sites

An NHS update has advised community pharmacy sites to check their settings on the National Booking Service to maximise uptake for COVID-19 vaccination appointments.

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The “timing of sending and arrival” of letters sent to patients eligible for COVID-19 vaccination may be the cause of low booking rates in some community pharmacy-led sites, the NHS has said.

In a daily update sent to vaccination sites on 27 January 2021, NHS England also advised community pharmacy sites to check their settings — such as whether car parking is available — on the National Booking Service (NBS), warning that “many sites have not been taking advantage of the NBS set-up support” that would help with “minimising impact on patients’ ability to book”.

The update follows concerns from pharmacists running sites with low numbers of bookings from patients through the NBS.

As part of the system, patients are sent letters as they become eligible, offering them the ability to book a vaccination appointment online at either a community pharmacy site or a mass vaccination centre.

However, the update said that some incorrect settings on the NBS may mean patients are not given the option to book into a particular site.

“There have been cases where vaccination sites have marked on NBS that they have no on-site car parking available, when they are next door to a car park,” the update said.

“This means that if patients select car parking when they try and book, then your details won’t appear visible to them.”

“Obviously we want you to be truthful, but if there is adequate disabled parking near you, you may want to update your site attributes,” it said, adding that the settings issue also “applies to accessible toilets, braille translation, induction loop, sign language, disabled and step free access and text relay”.

The update added that the “timing of sending and arrival of letters via the National Booking Service or activity of [primary care networks] may also impact bookings”.

Rajen Kandel, director of Woolwich Late Night Pharmacy in London, told The Pharmaceutical Journal that on 25 January 2021, the pharmacy site only vaccinated 26 patients, when it has capacity for 400 patients per day.

“We tried to spread the message to the local people in the community that there is the opportunity to make a booking and we’re a very easily accessible high street pharmacy,” he said.

But he added: “It appears that there are lots of people over 70 [who] haven’t got invitation letters from the NHS.”

While the remaining vaccines are being stored in the fridge and not going to waste, he said the low number of bookings “is wasting staff time and resources that we have all put in place to maximise vaccination”.

When asked to comment on the low number of bookings, a spokesperson for the NHS in London said: “People aged 70 and over in London are being invited to book an appointment following government confirming last week that people in this age group should now be contacted.

“People can then choose whether they get vaccinated at a community pharmacy, one of the 50 large-scale sites or at their local GP-led service.”

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Citation
The Pharmaceutical Journal, January 2021;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2021.20208772