Background: There is a need to increase flu vaccination rates in England particularly among those under 65 years of age and at risk because of other conditions and treatments. Patients in at risk groups are eligible for free vaccination on the National Health Service (NHS) in England, but despite this, some choose to pay privately. This paper explores how prevalent this is and why people choose to do it. There is moderate to good evidence from several countries that community pharmacies can safely provide a range of vaccinations, largely seasonal influenza Immunisation. Pharmacy-based services can extend the reach of immunisation programmes. User, doctor and pharmacist satisfaction with these services is high.
Method: Data were collected during the 2012-13 flu season as part of a community pharmacy private flu vaccination service to help identify whether patients were eligible to have their vaccination free of charge on the NHS. Additional data were collected from a sample of patients accessing the private service within 13 pharmacies to help identify the reasons patients paid when they were eligible for free vaccination.
Results: Data were captured from 89,011 privately paying patients across 479 pharmacies in England, of whom 6% were eligible to get the vaccination free. 921 patients completed a survey in the 13 pharmacies selected. Of these, 199 (22%) were eligible to get their flu vaccination for free. 131 (66%) were female. Average age was 54 years. Of the 199 patients who were eligible for free treatment, 100 (50%) had been contacted by their GP surgery to go for their vaccination, but had chosen not to go. Reasons given include accessibility, convenience and preference for pharmacy environment.
Conclusions: While people at risk can access flu vaccinations free via the NHS, some choose to pay privately because they perceive that community pharmacy access is easier. There are opportunities for pharmacy to support the NHS in delivering free flu vaccinations to patients at risk by targeting people unlikely to access the service at GP surgeries.