The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) has emphasised that the community pharmacy sector must be involved right from the start in all local planning meetings pertaining to the roll-out of vaccine services in potential future pandemics. This includes crucial discussions regarding supply logistics and resource allocation, lawyers representing the NPA told COVID-19 public inquiry hearing.
Chaired by Baroness Heather Hallett, the independent public inquiry is examining the UK’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and lessons for the future.
The NPA has been designated as a ‘core participant’ in Module 4 (vaccines) of the inquiry, which considers various issues related to vaccine development and rollout, as well as Module 3 (healthcare).
During the hearing on September 13, NPA lawyers outlined three key areas the association says must be improved in future pandemic vaccination programs, including properly utilising existing primary care expertise, better planning and engagement, and improved access to information for community pharmacists.
“Despite significant pressures, community pharmacies played a pivotal role in maintaining access to healthcare services during the pandemic,” said Brian Stanton of Innovo Law, who is representing the NPA. “They were instrumental in the successful delivery of the Covid-19 vaccination programme. According to figures from NHS England and NHS Improvement, by 14 January 2022, community pharmacy had delivered well over 22 million vaccinations.”
Seeking increased participation
The NPA emphasised the essential function of community pharmacies in administering vaccinations to ministers, policy makers, and public health England in the summer of 2020. This recommendation was substantiated by over two decades of experience in delivering flu vaccinations.
“Despite the potential and established expertise, government engagement with community pharmacy in the initial planning of the program in Autumn 2020 was restricted,” said Stanton. “It was only later in the program, beginning from Spring 2021, that the community pharmacy network could engage more actively. The NPA and the community pharmacy sector is keen to ensure that lessons are learned from the vaccination rollout programme.”
Stanton further said that the community pharmacists have established trusting relationships in local communities and engaged effectively with patients to address concerns and dispel myths. “Given their higher concentration in deprived areas, this engagement proved crucial in addressing vaccine inequalities,” he added.
The NPA urged the alleviation of administrative burdens in NHS vaccination schemes, while emphasising the need for improvements in the NHS booking system and a more streamlined vaccine supply process.
“Participation in this endeavour may take time to show its full impact, but I see it as a crucial opportunity to document the achievements of community pharmacy during the pandemic,” said Nick Kaye, Chair of NPA. “I am committed to ensuring that the life-saving contribution of community pharmacy will be remembered by future generations.”
“More tangibly, it is also to ensure that the inquiry’s recommendations are based in the practical realities faced by health workers including pharmacy teams,” Kaye added. “We want this process to result in action that will better equip the health service to be resilient against, and responsive to, future public health crises.”
On Sept. 13, Community Pharmacy England, the Company Chemists Association, and the National Pharmacy Association collectively expressed disappointment at a recent statement by Dr. Leyla Hannbeck, Chief Executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies. The CPE, CCA, and NPA challenged AIMp’s claim that pharmacy bodies operate independently, highlighting the importance of utilising various channels and strategies to influence public policy.