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Some patients eligible for free flu jabs still prefer local pharmacy

Convenience factor could help GPs achieve target for at risk groups, say study authors

Caroline White

Monday, 03 February 2014

Despite being eligible for free flu jabs, some patients still prefer the convenience of their local pharmacy and are happy to pay for their vaccination, indicates a commercially sponsored study published in BMC Health Services Research.

The NHS and World Health Organization have set a flu jab target of 75% coverage for at risk patients under 65 in 2013-14; in the winter of 2011-12, uptake reached 50%.

The authors of the study, from the University of Nottingham and pharmacy chain Boots UK, conclude that community pharmacy could help GPs meet their target.

They base their findings on data collected for 89,011 patients at 479 Boots community pharmacies in 2012-13 across England. Of these, some 5340 were eligible for a free flu jab, because they were in an at risk group, but decided to pay for it anyway.

Almost 1000 people at 13 branches completed a questionnaire on the reasons behind their decision to pay for the jab. Of these, 199 (22%) were eligible for free vaccination.

Two thirds of the respondents were women, with an average age of 54. Half of the total sample of those eligible for a free jab had been contacted by their GP surgery, requesting that they get vaccinated against flu, but had chosen not to do so.

The reasons given included accessibility, convenience, and preference for a pharmacy environment.

During 2012-13, the flu jab was available in 586 participating Boots pharmacies in England at a cost of £12.99. The pharmacy chain was also commissioned to deliver the service for the NHS via patient group directions—without the need for a prescription from their GP—at 258 branches.

Lead author Professor Claire Anderson from the School of Pharmacy at the University of Nottingham, comments: “There is a recognised need to continue to drive uptake flu vaccinations for patients in at-risk groups but achieving the level required is challenging and requires innovative thinking and new approaches.

Community pharmacy is currently an underused resource within the NHS and this latest research demonstrates a valuable role pharmacy can play as part of an integrated healthcare system.”

Peter Bainbridge, director of pharmacy at Boots UK added: “Patients tell us that a pharmacy is a convenient and accessible option for getting their flu vaccination. We are near to where they work and have opening hours that suit their busy lives.”

He continued: “At risk patients regularly visit our pharmacies to collect their prescription and to seek our advice and support, so our pharmacists are well placed to remind them of the importance of immunisation.”

President of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Martin Astbury commented: “This winter the NHS has agreed all pharmacies in London should provide free flu vaccinations to those over 65 and in at-risk groups. Pharmacies can complement GP services by providing free NHS and private vaccinations. Ideally we’d like to see this replicated across the whole of the country.”

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