In the week before Christmas, our staff were dropping like flies. It seemed that every day another colleague had fallen victim to the virus that’s gripped our world, and our energy levels were well below zero.
We didn’t know how we could possibly deliver the COVID-19 vaccination programme. But we knew our patients at Brighton Health and Wellbeing Centre (BHWC) would be disadvantaged if we didn’t sign up to the scheme. How would we do this, as well as keeping our usual practice running?
I had run a travel clinic in my community pharmacy days so I felt confident to put myself forward to lead the programme, to allow our GPs to continue with their no-less-important daily activities.
Little did I realise that my world was about to be turned upside down.
We got to work, and by New Year’s Eve I was on a conference call (as the only pharmacist) with the GP coordinating board.
The vaccine delivery was more complex than I could ever imagine. Five surgeries had to work together as one hub (covering 15,000 patients), as the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine comes with so many complexities. This was daunting to begin with, but I soon realised that we all had the same goal — and what an exceptional collaboration it turned out to be.
Since then, we have met every week via Zoom and we’ve pulled together a highly organised and efficient service. We run four pods at each clinic, which run from 08:00−20:00.
We have just completed our third week of vaccinations and, I must admit, I have become obsessed with getting our patients vaccinated as quickly and safely as possible. And with as little disruption as possible to our essential practice work.
My team are equally committed too. Each day, three members call patients; we have a volunteer to complete our admin; and a pharmacist deals with any side effects, collates the data and reports these to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. The team is brilliant and we celebrate each time we complete a cohort!
We’re making sure everyone involved can arm themselves with as much information as possible. I spent a weekend researching and collating some FAQs on the COVID-19 vaccine to share with all our patients, to reduce the number of calls coming to our receptionists. But patients are involved in the effort too: they’re able to submit questions to us and I receive around 10−20 emails each day. I answer every single one and add many to our FAQs list.
We want to keep our patients in the loop so we are sending a weekly COVID-19 vaccine progress update. We’re supporting them as much as we can too: a lovely volunteer helped us set up a transport system for patients who can’t access the centre by themselves. So they don’t miss out on their vaccine, a COVID-19-secure car picks them up from home and drops them to our vaccination clinic.
Patients know they can trust us: I took an initial training day and since then I’ve ensured that all our GPs, nurses, physiotherapists and pharmacists have been trained to deliver the vaccine. Now, around 15 of our staff members are working overtime to serve their community at the COVID-19 vaccine hub.
The pharmacists, particularly, have really helped speed up the process. We are highly skilled at the drawing up of vaccines and we’ve been called on whenever there was a backlog. We now have a couple of community pharmacists asking to volunteer.
This work feels like a lifetime achievement and I feel like I’m part of history. It’s great to see pharmacists across the UK getting involved — we simply can’t see the end of this pandemic without everyone’s help.
Shilpa Patel would like to thank her BHWC Stop COVID team, Grace, Olivia and Tanusha.
Shilpa Patel, lead pharmacist and GP practice partner, Brighton Health and Wellbeing Centre