The data indicates that there are opportunities for pharmacy to support the NHS in delivering free flu vaccinations to patients at risk by targeting those patients unlikely to access the service at GP surgeries. By commissioning these services through community pharmacy, data on these patients would help contribute towards NHS/World Health Organisation (WHO) targets.
There are a number of patients that are eligible for the NHS flu vaccination, but choose to pay privately to access the service through community pharmacies. Reasons for not accessing the service from the GP include difficulty in getting an appointment and inconvenience. Like previous studies [6–8, 10] reasons for accessing services through pharmacies include convenient locations, opening hours, and preference for the pharmacy environment.
Even though these patients could access the flu service for free at GP surgeries, they actively chose to go into pharmacy and pay privately. This was because of the inconvenience of going to GP surgeries (opening hours, appointments) and the convenience of pharmacies (hours, locations, accessibility). It is interesting that only 50% of the eligible people in this study recalled being contacted by their GP regarding flu vaccination. Some of this could be due to recall bias but it is concerning if 50% of people are genuinely not being contacted.
This represents a major missed opportunity for the NHS as they are not currently meeting their targets for vaccinations. There is a huge opportunity for pharmacy to augment the service that GPs currently provide, and help fill this gap. Pharmacists often see patients monthly (sometimes more frequently) when coming in to access their prescriptions. Pharmacists and their staff have an opportunity to remind patients in at risk groups to get vaccinated. Patients (particularly those under 65) may not see their GP on a regular basis, so may not get any reminders for vaccinations, or easily forget.
In other reported studies 23 Isle of Wight pharmacies vaccinated 4,192 patients in 2011–12. 65% were aged 65 or over, indicating that a third of patients were in the under 65 ‘at risk’ groups, particularly those with heart disease, diabetes or respiratory disease . 71% of patients visited pharmacy because of its convenient accessibility, 16% indicated a general preference for pharmacy and 13% cited difficulties in obtaining vaccination services from their GP. 19% of patients would not have received a vaccination other than in a pharmacy. 99% of the Sheffield patients said they considered the service provision by the pharmacy good or excellent . The Isle of Wight pharmacy service was rated excellent by 97% of patients.
The data presented are limited to one pharmacy multiple. The data are limited to information collected on a PGD record form and entered into a computer system. This limits other information commonly associated with immunisations such as patient health status.
The difference in the reported number of eligible patients between the PGD data and the survey data is likely due to the bias in collecting the survey data. Information was captured on 82% of patients having the flu vaccination within 479 pharmacies. Only 30% of patients completed the survey data within 13 pharmacies this further limits the findings. The pharmacists may have selected patients who were more likely to be NHS eligible for completing the survey, leading to bias in reporting of the higher percentage eligibility data.