Thank you to pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and pharmacy teams for everything you are doing

As we approach the end of 2022, I’d like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude for your ongoing contribution to high quality patient care, and your resilience and dedication in what has been another challenging year. Whilst some of you will have taken some well-deserved time off, many of you have continued to help and support communities around the country over the festive period across a wide range of health services, including vaccinations.

At the start of September, people were referring to a potential ‘twindemic’ and we’re now hearing about the risk of a ‘tripledemic’ – with flu, COVID-19 and other respiratory infections, which may be circulating in the coming months.

We’re all working hard to talk to communities about the importance of winter vaccinations, to ensure everyone knows what they need and why, and this needs to continue. Over the last few months, you’ve all been doing an amazing job seeing people who are keen to protect themselves and their loved ones as they come in for their COVID-19 and flu vaccines.

I was delighted to have my COVID-19 and flu vaccinations at The Hythe Pharmacy in Colchester in early December and I encourage everyone who is eligible to book their vaccines and protect themselves, their families and the NHS this winter.

Bridging the gap for winter vaccines

The COVID-19 pandemic shone a spotlight on health inequalities, and it’s important we keep up our work with underserved communities to remove any barriers to access, as well as raising awareness about the NHS services that are offered to everyone.

Confidence in vaccinations differs across countries, depending on a person’s age or their ethnic group, with challenges including access, convenience, complacency and misinformation.

Only by encouraging open conversations and listening to people’s concerns will we be able to fully understand any reasons for hesitation.

What we can do differently

Alongside other healthcare professionals, volunteers and partners, such as local councils and community leaders, you have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to protect citizens. Many of you have led the way in identifying innovative ways to share your medicines expertise and help the cause. I wanted to share a couple of great community pharmacy success stories I heard about recently:

Swindon-based pharmacist Gurinder Singh regularly volunteers with charity NishkamSWAT, which supports disadvantaged communities around the UK, including those who are homeless or rough sleeping. The charity provide thousands of meals per week at regular locations throughout the UK.

During the pandemic, the team realised access to COVID-19 vaccinations wasn’t straightforward for everyone and so they launched an initiative to bring them to the streets of London. Working with local authorities, they introduced drop-in clinics for people to get their vaccine from a team of clinicians, including GPs, dentists and pharmacists who volunteered their spare time.

They also brought the COVID-19 vaccine message to places of worship, by arranging GP-led information sessions, followed by drop-in vaccination clinics. At their recent clinic at a Gurdwara in Swindon, COVID-19 boosters and flu vaccines were given and, thanks to their multilingual staff, people had the support they needed to make an informed choice.

It’s good to talk

As the vaccine uptake in some London boroughs wasn’t as high as other parts of the country, Shilpa Shah, Chief Executive Officer at North-East London Local Pharmaceutical Committee, recognised a need to provide more COVID-19 guidance and support in Tower Hamlets. She worked in partnership with the Public Health team to implement a commissioned scheme for local residents to speak up about their concerns with their trusted pharmacists.

The scheme launched in June and offers face-to-face, telephone and video call consultations to help to alleviate concerns, dispel myths and discuss the importance of the vaccine. Nobody is pressured into making a decision right away and, following their conversation, residents are free to leave and take the time they need to decide if the vaccine is right for them.

More than 1,800 consultations have taken place across 12 pharmacies since June and 831 vaccines have been given following individual conversations.

Looking to the future

The world has been talking about COVID-19 for three years now and we know we’ll continue these conversations for some time. As pharmacy teams across the health system, you have already forged strong relationships, built trust and instilled confidence with patients and residents in your local areas. Continuing to develop fresh approaches and trying out new ideas is a good way to encourage vaccine uptake this winter and in the coming year.

As 2023 begins, thank you to all pharmacy teams and I wish you a Happy New Year.

David Webb

David Webb is the Chief Pharmaceutical Officer for England, having previously been Chief Pharmacist and Clinical Director for Pharmacy and Medicines Optimisation at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. He is a member of NHS England Medical Directorate’s senior management team, the UK Government Chief Medical Officer’s senior clinical group, Head of the Pharmacy Professions in England and the principal advisor on pharmacy and medicines use in the NHS, which includes supporting the Department of Health and Social Care.