Overseeing the logistics of the Queen’s pharmacy becoming a COVID-19 vaccination site

As Healthcare Services Manager of John Bell & Croyden, James Gray oversees day-to-day performance and logistics for the Royal Warrant holding pharmacy business. He discusses what it means to be one of the community pharmacies chosen to support COVID-19 vaccination efforts as part of the NHS vaccination programme.

John Bell & Croyden is a specialist provider of pharmaceutical and healthcare services with some exciting credentials. Established in 1798 – and pharmacists to Her Majesty the Queen since 1958 – the luxury pharmacy emporium has immediate on-site access to professional pharmaceutical expertise and advice and is immersed in London’s world-famous Harley Street Medical Area.

The pharmacy has kept its doors open through two world wars – and now a pandemic. During lockdown, as demands rose and healthcare services such as GPs and hospitals became limited, the 200+ year old brand supplemented their offering to fulfil the needs of their local community, through the provision of medical advice, Covid tests and Fit to Fly certificates. Now it is turning its experienced hand to Covid vaccinations after recently being announced as an NHS England approved site.

“We are incredibly proud to have been selected to provide this important service to our local community to help support the NHS and government and accelerate the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination programme,” says James, who overlooks all non-consumer services at the pharmacy, including wholesale, healthcare services and contract services.

“Throughout the pandemic we’ve seen just how extensively the role of the pharmacist has changed, and how quickly the industry has adapted. It is a tremendous recognition of this incredible effort that pharmacists have been given such an active role to help protect our community and soften some of the pressures on our health services.”

But turning a luxury pharmacy into an NHS vaccination centre is no easy job. Since Saturday 30th January, pharmacists at John Bell & Croyden have been hard at work vaccinating 1000 patients a week, potentially rising to 1200 as the service develops – that is 1 patient every 4 minutes. So how has the pharmacy prepared itself?

“Pharmacies across the UK were invited to apply to become designated vaccination centres in December of last year, with NHS England saying that it would be commissioning only a “limited number” of community pharmacies to run local vaccination services,” adds James. “Our pharmacy applied that same day. Once we were initially approved, we went through the rigorous process to become a validated vaccination site, i.e. ensuring capacity as well as convenience and safety to support the highest risk individuals.

“Part of my role as Healthcare Services Manager has been overseeing the logistics of this. During lockdown our pharmacy had already introduced a number of new safety measures, which means we’ve been able to build on this. For instance, we have transformed a part of the store so that it is specifically reserved for the purposes of vaccination; we’ve introduced booths and Perspex screens to give extra space to patients; and we’ve also introduced new signage and single flow systems to segregate shoppers from vaccination patients.

“Training has been another key area. At John Bell & Croyden we have a team of highly trained professionals and the pharmacy has been supporting the NHS through its flu vaccination programme for a number of years. Our experienced team has also conducted well over 1,000 COVID-19 tests for customers in-store in the last two months alone, so luckily – in terms of training – many of our staff were already qualified in this respect, and my job has been ensuring they have access to the right guidance.

“Lastly, we’ve had to figure how to implement all these changes while maintaining the high quality and luxury standards that we are known for. The John Bell & Croyden team, for instance, is currently in discussion with nearby car park owners to see if customers can access their facilities, so we can make the experience as fast and convenient as possible for patients. We have also created a concierge service so that our customers can be greeted at the door and shown to the newly created vaccination booths. This means we can guide them through every step of the process and make it as easy and pleasant as possible for them.”

During the pandemic John Bell & Croyden has created new opportunities and revolutionised pharmacy practice in some truly unique ways. The pharmacy’s flagship store on London’s Wigmore Street is the first McKesson UK community pharmacy to participate in the government’s nationwide vaccine rollout. The service is available from 8am to 8pm, meaning customers can book a time that is most convenient for them.

“The Covid pandemic has presented many challenges, but our pharmacy has adapted and as a team we will continue to do the best we can to offer help during this challenging period. I am incredibly grateful for the resilience and dedication that our staff have shown and remain hopeful as we aim to protect as many people as we can during this next phase in our fight against COVID-19.”