Many pharmacies struggled to get involved in Covid booster programme
By Neil Trainis
Exclusive: The National Pharmacy Association has revealed that many of its members struggled to get involved in the phase three Covid booster programme in England, leaving unanswered questions over why pharmacists and pharmacy owners who appeared well placed to participate had to wait so long for a response and why many were turned down.
Two separate freedom of information requests sent by Independent Community Pharmacist to NHS England, the results of which were received three months apart, produced conflicting answers on the number of pharmacies that submitted their interest by the July 28, 2021 deadline.
In January this year, NHSE&I said 4,733 pharmacies had submitted 5,376 expressions of interest by that deadline but in a second FOI in March, it said 5,666 pharmacies lodged 6,209 expressions of interest to roll out phase 3 jabs by the same date. ICP has asked NHSE&I to explain the disparity in those figures.
There have been concerns that pharmacies who were ready to deliver boosters were not given the chance to do so. In a blog on her website in December last year, the Liberal Democrat MP Daisy Cooper claimed pharmacy applications suffered low approval rates and those that were approved were given the green light after long delays.
She claimed that on average, pharmacies had to wait over six weeks for their applications to be approved by NHSE&I. One pharmacy, she said, waited 78 days.
She also said that by the end of September 2021, less than a third of pharmacies that applied to administer boosters had been accepted and by December 3, 1,336 community pharmacy vaccination sites were providing the service. NHSE&I told ICP that 1,454 pharmacies were scheduled to, or had started, the phase 3 booster programme.
According to NHSE&I, 611 pharmacy sites were commissioned to provide 100 vaccinations a week, with 3,412 pharmacies submitting 3,472 expressions of interest, while 369 sites were commissioned to administer 350 vaccinations a week, with 1,542 pharmacies submitting 1,640 expressions of interest.
When it came to sites delivering 1,000 vaccinations a week, 474 pharmacy sites were commissioned, with 712 pharmacies submitting 1,097 expressions of interest.
NHSE&I did not reveal why so many pharmacies were turned down but in January it said: “Expressions of interest that were not prioritised or designated will be considered again if, as system requirements change over time, the commissioner chooses to commission this service from additional sites".
The NPA told ICP that “many” of its members "found the process of applying frustrating and communication (to pharmacy owners) wasn’t always great".
“Having done a lot of work to put together an application and having to put themselves and their teams on standby, some of them had a long wait for any kind of response.”
It added: “But we recognise that NHS England was running to keep up with a fast-moving situation and the community pharmacy sector as a whole made a huge contribution, saving thousands of lives.”