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Hancock wants pharmacy on flu and COVID jabs; GPs ‘back in surgeries’

Health secretary Matt Hancock addressing last night's Sigma Pharmaceuticals webinar
Health secretary Matt Hancock addressing last night's Sigma Pharmaceuticals webinar

Matt Hancock has said he wants this winter’s COVID booster vaccinations and flu service to be delivered by pharmacy, as “we need GPs to be back in surgeries practising medicine”.

Speaking last night (June 23) at a Sigma Pharmaceuticals webinar, the health secretary answered questions on topics including the forthcoming healthcare bill, the COVID-19 vaccination programme and the £370 million advance funding for the sector’s COVID-related costs.

In his opening remarks, Mr Hancock praised pharmacy as being “the heart of primary care”, adding: “For me, nothing has shown the incredible capability of community pharmacy better than the vaccine programme.

“The local efforts that have made it a national success, the way that people have stepped forward, the way that people have used their place at the heart of communities to make this work – you are helping the country out of the pandemic.”

“Big shift” in vaccination programme 

Asked by C+D about the sector’s involvement in a future COVID-19 booster vaccination programme, Mr Hancock confirmed that there would be one, but that the government was waiting on some clinical results – including the co-administration of flu and COVID vaccines, and information on patient cohorts – before setting out the details.

However, he told the webinar: “I am looking for a big shift in the vaccination programme towards delivery through pharmacy.

“In terms of the use of our clinical capabilities as a country, you want people to be operating at the top of their license, and frankly we need GPs to be back in surgeries practising medicine in the normal way, whereas a vaccination can be done by a range of different trained clinicians,” Mr Hancock explained.

“That’s very much the direction of travel, but it has to be value for money for the NHS and the taxpayer.”

“Biggest ever flu programme” needed

As “almost nobody” had caught flu in the past 18 months, “we know immunity will be down and we’ve got to deliver the biggest ever flu vaccination programme alongside the booster shots for COVID”, Mr Hancock stressed.

“I have absolutely no doubt after everything that’s been achieved in the last 18 months that you can help us rise to this challenge and play a major part in it,” he told the Sigma webinar audience.

The desire for pharmacy to be more heavily involved in vaccine administration is part of Mr Hancock’s wider belief that “prevention is better than cure”. Mr Hancock said that he wanted pharmacy “at the heart of that vision” as he discussed plans for a new healthcare bill to be introduced to parliament later this year, which seeks to overhaul the NHS.

The proposed healthcare reforms include bringing day-to-day running of the NHS back under the control of the health secretary, replacing clinical commissioning groups with integrated care systems and ditching competition rules around tendering of NHS contracts.

Mr Hancock commented: “We are not going back to the old way of doing things.”

20m GP appointments “should be” referred to pharmacy

As many as 20m GP appointments every year “could be referred to community pharmacists – and they should be”, Mr Hancock said. “I want to see people with minor illnesses referred to pharmacies.”

Despite a desire for community pharmacy to take on more primary care work, when asked about issues with the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service  – such as the low uptake of the service among GPs – Mr Hancock said he did not have an assessment of the issues.

No answer still on COVID loans

Asked about the issue of writing off £370m in advance funding given by the government to help pharmacies cope with the additional pressures and challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr Hancock remarked: “I thought this might come up and I know that the costs were paid for, but there hasn't been that reimbursement.

“It's something I'm working on, but I apologise, I can't say anymore.”

Also speaking on the webinar was Mark Lyonette, chief executive of the National Pharmacy Association – which has been campaigning for the government to write off the debts. He told Mr Hancock that “sincere” sentiments from government ministers about pharmacy were mixed with “contradictory” messaging, such as over funding.

The challenge is: “How can we get excited and mobilised and deliver – we’re a can-do sector – when at times those messages are contradicted with some of the messages around funding,” Mr Lyonette asked.

Mr Hancock responded that the “win-win” in terms of funding would be to maximise the use of funding while maintaining value for money for the NHS.

French model, online pharmacy and compulsory vaccinations

In 2018, C+D exclusively revealed Mr Hancock’s wish for community pharmacy to move towards a French model, with a focus on “prevention rather than cure”.

“So much more early primary care and preventative work is done in pharmacies in France than is normal in the UK,” he said last night, reaffirming his support for the model. “I think people just haven't thought about it enough on a policy level, and that's on us.”

Mr Hancock was also asked about online pharmacies – the growing presence of which has been a topic for debate. He told the webinar that different pharmacy models had been useful during the COVID-19 pandemic, but added that “we've got to make sure that the way that policy works is flexible enough to take that into account”.

Former pharmacy minister Steve Brine asked about last week’s announcement that care home workers will be required by law to have two COVID-19 vaccines come October, with the possibility of this being extended across the NHS. Mr Brine asked what this would mean for pharmacists.

“We're going to consult on this,” Mr Hancock replied, remarking that the issue was “not straightforward”, as although community pharmacy is part of the NHS, pharmacists are not directly employed by the NHS, but act as private contractors.

What changes to the healthcare system would you like to see in the forthcoming government reforms?

Robert Mitchell, Community pharmacist

I know that the events of the weekend probably make this statement null and void but it would be aided greatly by a change of the law that allows our skilled technician colleagues to administer off PGDs.

Dave Downham, Manager

Why is there a picture of Mr Hancock below an advert for Viagra Direct on the home page? Juxtaposition?

N O, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Looks like we might soon have a new Health Secretary and the whole thing will start again.

MrR Patel, Community pharmacist

Words words and more words as usual. I thought NPA's Mark Lyonette's performance was very poor on the webinar. Really embarrassing for pharmacy to be represented by someone who does not have a clue about what they are talking about. He was just waffling. Embarrassing.  


Ashley Pharmacist , Pharmacy owner/ Proprietor

Agree. Sigma should choose their speakers better next time. 

Ebers Papyrus, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Groundhog day! C&D should run an article on all the big statements made by ministers, civil servants and NHS officials.

Paul Dishman, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Show us the colour of your money, Matt

Dave Downham, Manager

Deeds, Mr Hancock, not words, please.

Benie Locum, Locum pharmacist

His deeds were published by the Sun newspaper yesterday. 

Sick and Tired, Community pharmacist

The guy has a direct connection to the moon. 

Polly Shortcake , Manager

We've been working our backsides off this past year, harder than ever before, seeing more patients ( because their gp's wouldn't) doing more prescriptions, answering more queries and rolling out new services. When exactly does he expect us to do the jabs on top of our normal pharmacy work? Most of us have worked extra hours just to try and keep up with the ever increasing workload. It's taking how many staff at the moment to administer the jabs? That's how many extra staff we need if we were to do it. The mind boggles!

Robert Mitchell, Community pharmacist

very interested to know where the extra prescriptions are coming from if the GP's aren't working 

N O, Pharmaceutical Adviser

I have very LESS HOPE that anything the minister said will ever be implemented!!

C A, Community pharmacist

Well he's gone now, so we will see

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