Flu vaccine – Bullying pharmacy chains missing a trick?

It is flu vaccine season at many pharmacies across the UK.

The UK government’s drive to get more people vaccinated for common flu has been escalated this year to dampen the potential challenges demanded by the coronavirus pandemic.

flu vaccine

A combination of increased awareness and action for better personal hand hygiene, and more people getting the flu vaccine could have a hugely beneficial effect on covid-19 outcomes. It is no wonder there is a tremendous flu vaccination push by the government, NHS and pharmacy on top of the development of a viable Covid-19 vaccine.

Worryingly though there are already claims by the PDA (Pharmacists’ Defence Association) of “Bullying pharmacy chains” who “insist on high flu jab volumes” as reported in the pharmacy media such as The Chemist & Druggist.

flu vaccine - reports of bullying by pharmacy chains

This chasing of available NHS money is not unsurprising in these turbulent times, especially in the face of the prediction that “Under current funding, nearly three quarters of community pharmacies in England will be in deficit by 2024” as reported by accountancy firm Ernst & Young (EY) in the Chemist & Druggist.

So, what is pharmacy chasing by pushing flu jabs so hard?

Let’s put the record straight. The pharmacy chains are not just after money, they are as with all participating pharmacies offering a much needed and medically recognised pharmacy service which will ultimately save lives. Even more so this flu season with the concurrent coronavirus pandemic.

This year pharmacy is aiming to offer more than the 1,718,147 vaccines administered in the 2019/20 flu season (ref. PSNC) .

Pharmacies will receive £10.08 per vaccine administered under the NHS Advanced service (ref. PSNC) at an increase of 50p from last year’s remuneration.

Doing some quick maths this equates to an eye-watering £17,318,921 payment for pharmacy’s part (GP administered flu vaccines are not included in any of these figures)!!

There are over 11,700 registered pharmacies in the UK.

Presuming they all offer the flu vaccine on the NHS, each UK pharmacy would be paid just £1,480 for their average of 146 vaccination efforts. If this service was spread over the entire year this would equate to a paltry £123 per month.

The flu vaccine doesn’t drive repeat business, unless you are happy to wait a whole year for another massive £10 windfall.

So, are these single transactions worth all the fuss and potential employment litigation from bullying?

To answer this question, we need to also think about the clinical outcomes and remember, as healthcare professionals, pharmacy’s role is to maintain and improve health.

The potential benefit of the flu jab is not in doubt, but how effective is the flu vaccine?

Did you know the flu jab is not 100% effective?

According to the Centre for Clinical Vaccinology and Tropical Medicine in Oxford, the 2019/20 flu vaccine was about 42% effective across all age groups.

It is especially important to understand the flu vaccine effectiveness varies each season and has been as low as 15% (2017/18). These figures are only available well after the season ends.

We understand this is a slightly negative view, but at just 42% effectiveness, more than half of the pharmacy effort was effectively wasted. If we assume a very generous 10 mins (more likely to be 15 mins) to carry out each of the average 146 flu jab consultations and wipe down afterwards, over 24 hours of precious pharmacist’s time would have had questionable value.

This is over 3 full days of working hours not carrying out essential pharmacist duties and no wonder those pharmacists affected by bullying are far from happy.

So, is pharmacy missing a financial and clinical opportunity by seemingly concentrating solely on the flu vaccine?

We have identified the burgeoning financial need for pharmacy to expand beyond their traditional dispensing role and have demonstrated the flu vaccine is far from wholly clinically effective.

The pressure on pharmacists to need to make money from these multiple, low profit flu vaccinations creates the platform for a bullying culture as they are inevitably stretched beyond reasonable working practice.

This need not be the case since private, patient-funded pharmacy services are numerous, offering the pharmacy higher returns for their time and often bring repeat business. It is important to note they are not unlike flu jabs in that they must be effectively promoted to the public.

business quote on advertising

Lipotrim is one such service, offering the chance for pharmacies to really make a difference to individuals health through safe and effective weight management. Clinical outcomes extend way beyond the weight loss, for example remission of type 2 diabetes, remission of sleep apnoea and not to mention the reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and even cancer.

With weekly visits producing significant and regular financial returns, plus the predictable weight losses of about a stone a month, Lipotrim can truly deliver. This is a service requiring the full expertise of a pharmacist and is remunerated accordingly.

Want some other pharmacy services ideas? Check out sites such as PharmaDoctor.

Ultimately pharmacy is not duty bound to offer this NHS advanced flu vaccination service and employment law frowns upon bullying in the workplace. Pharmacy can much better utilise their expertise and time by not making flu vaccines the “be all and end all”. Utilising the current flu vaccine marketing drive, pharmacy can link all of their pharmacy services offering a holistic health solution.

Who knows maybe this will allow all parties to be harmonious and benefit greatly for it.

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