Skill mix and teamwork: providing COVID-19 vaccinations

by Ravi Sharma, RPS Director for England 

We have seen throughout the pandemic the leadership of pharmacy teams supporting the public and patient care. We continue to see the NHS relying on the phenomenal clinical skills and expert knowledge pharmacists bring as the experts in medicines and vaccine delivery.

I was privileged last weekend to take part in the NHS Covid vaccination programme as part of the Lea Valley Health Primary Care Network vaccination hub. I can honestly say it was the most inspiring day I’ve had as a pharmacist and it made me feel enormously proud of our fantastic team and amazing NHS.

The day started at 7am at one of our large GP practice sites where we all got stuck in to get everything set up before patients arrived. Our PCN has allocated an additional multi-purpose building for vaccinations which gives greater opportunities to ensure social distancing is maintained for patients, extra vaccination storage space, larger clinical rooms and additional vaccination preparation space.

We received our Pfizer/BioNTech vaccination drop off at 7:30am – it was surreal moment for me. Our team of pharmacists took receipt of the stock and coordinated its prompt, safe and suitable storage. From the moment of the vaccination drop, the excitement and energy from staff and patients was huge, something I have never experienced before. It was an incredible feeling.

We started vaccinating at 8am. My role on the site was varied throughout the day. This made it interesting and really demonstrated how central pharmacists are the safe and effective delivery of the vaccination programme. I started by assessing patients as they arrived, making sure they were suitable for the vaccine, explaining how the vaccination works, answering any questions they had and obtaining consent. The other part of my day included clinically supervising and preparing vaccinations, helping administer vaccinations and supporting with site clinical supervision duties and queries that came up throughout the weekend. Once patients had their vaccinations our team of volunteers and healthcare assistants would observe them for 15 minutes before they left the site.

The whole operational ran like clockwork; this wouldn’t have been possible without the superb organisation by the whole team and our volunteers supporting us throughout the day. This weekend proved the value of working together with other healthcare professionals and why skill mix, collaboration and multidisciinary team working is so important.

All the patients were keen to get vaccinated and get on with their lives. Many were celebrating as they were getting it done and were so grateful. For people who have been isolated from loved ones for nearly a year the vaccine gives them so much hope. They spoke about being able to see and hold their grandchildren again, and the team and I felt genuinely honoured to be involved.

Our site delivered over 1300 vaccinations across the weekend, and we plan to ramp this up this weekend to over 1500. But this is just one small part of the bigger picture up and down the country of pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants, practice managers, admin workers and volunteers, mobilised through the NHS, to help in this huge national effort to save lives.

It was the purest form of teamwork and as a pharmacist, hugely satisfying. This work – wherever it is done - is all about our core skills: medicines safety and clinical advice, aseptics, governance, clinical protocol development and person-centred care. Together, it all ensures the whole operation works safely. It was the smoothest process I’ve ever been involved in thanks to the amazing teamwork from everyone.

I’ll never forget it. And this is just one story, from one primary care network. There are pharmacists and pharmacy technicians across the country from every sector of the profession providing the most vulnerable groups in our society with the vaccine. My experience shows just how important, how valuable and how far the clinical skills of pharmacists working in primary care have come. Long may it continue.

And yes, I’ll be back there this weekend, without a doubt.