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Vaccine control – can you afford not to service your pharmacy fridge?

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With so many GP practices being stretched financially, it's tempting to cut costs at every corner. One of the cost-cutting measures that could be highly counter-productive is the money saved by delaying (or even cancelling) the servicing of your pharmacy fridge.

In this article, we look at the pharmacy fridge rules that you have to observe, and why it's so important to ensure you service your pharmacy fridge in line with Public Health England protocol.

The importance of the vaccine fridge

When assessing how safe practices are, one of the areas that has caused the CQC most concern is that of the management and storage of medicines and vaccines. Vaccines must be kept in the cold chain, and all those involved in the administration of vaccines (and the practice manager) should understand what to do if the cold chain fails.

In the practice, a failure of the pharmacy fridge would constitute a failure of the cold chain. It's a vital piece of equipment, which is why Public Health England protocol provides specific guidance as to how your practice must maintain your pharmacy fridge.

Routine maintenance of the pharmacy fridge

There are a number of specific actions that your practice must take with regard to its pharmacy fridge. Among these are actions aimed at proper maintenance:

  • It must be maintained in a clean condition.
  • There must be a service contract in place, which includes a minimum of once-yearly servicing.
  • The temperature must be calibrated at least once a month. This calibration must be made against an independently powered external thermometer.
  • A vaccine management review must be made at least quarterly.
  • Immunisation training (and training updates) must include maintenance of the cold chain.

If you can't evidence that all of the above are in place, your practice will be putting itself at risk of an inadequate rating for safety.

What if your pharmacy fridge fails?

Failing to service your pharmacy fridge also increases the likelihood of a fridge failure, and that's going to add an extra administrative burden on your practice (costing time and money). You can bet your bottom dollar that a fridge failure will happen at the most inopportune time, too.

If your pharmacy fridge does fail, you'll have to:

  • Inform the local NHS England screening and immunisation team.
  • Quarantine all vaccines affected by the failure (and continue to maintain them in the cold chain).
  • Record all details of the incident.
  • Implement follow-up after discussion with the SIT.
  • Implement lessons learned (and share them).
  • Ensure that written procedures for the disposal of vaccines are available.
  • Report the incident on the ImmForm website.

That's an awful lot of extra administrative burden placed on your practice, all of which could probably have been avoided if only you'd ensured that your pharmacy fridge had been serviced.

In short, replacing your pharmacy fridge will cost somewhere in the region of £500 to £2,500. But that's not the real cost of not servicing your fridge, is it?

More information:

PHE – Protocol for ordering, storing, and handling vaccines

CQC Vaccine storage and fridges in GP practices

eSupplies Medical is a trading name of Williams Medical Supplies Ltd, a DCC business