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Government must guarantee flu vaccine supply will meet demands of expanded programme, warn GP bodies

by Awil Mohamoud and Costanza Pearce
24 July 2020

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Healthcare bodies have warned that GP practices ‘need more details’ and assurances around funding and resources as they plan for this winter’s flu vaccination programme, after the Government announced more patients will become eligible for the free service. 

Shielded patients and their households will now be entitled to the free vaccination, as well all those aged between 50 and 64 as part of a staggered delivery ‘later in the season’, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

The DHSC said expanding the programme will help to ‘ready the NHS’ for the ‘risk of a second peak’ of Covid-19 and to ‘relieve winter pressures’ on A&E and emergency care services.

‘Providers will work to vaccinate more than 30 million people during this flu season – millions more than received it last year,’ the DHSC said.

There is no information yet about payment mechanisms for GP practices administering the vaccines, supply issues or when the programme will be delivered to patients between 50 and 64.

Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said that while the plan to extend the flu programme is ‘sensible’ ahead of a ‘busy winter and potential second wave of Covid-19’, it does not include sufficient detail about the ‘practicalities of how it will work’. 

He said: ‘Practices plan meticulously for the flu season every year to ensure the vaccination programme runs smoothly and as many people as possible get vaccinated – they will have made their orders at the beginning of the year and will need to amend these. 

‘We also need assurance that the Government can guarantee adequate supply for everyone covered under the extension.’

‘Assurances on vaccine stock and PPE’

Dr Graham Jackson, senior clinical advisor at NHS Confederation, also welcomed the announcement but mirrored calls for greater clarification from the Government. 

‘More details are needed about the extra funding for primary care to help administer the biggest and most comprehensive flu campaign that this country has ever seen,’ he said.

General practice was last week omitted in plans for £3bn in extra funding to help the NHS ‘get ready for winter’ during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr Jackson added: ‘GP practices, primary care networks (PCNs) and other providers will want assurances that more vaccines will be available to match demand. We will seek to have immediate conversations with NHS England and NHS Improvement about the coordinating role of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs).’

General practice will also need ‘extra supplies of PPE’ for the increased patient demand, he said.

Dr Jackson further urged the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to ‘take into account the scale of the challenge’ ahead of practices and to offer ‘pragmatic solutions’ around the health and safety issues of practices potentially delivering vaccinations offsite. 

Who’s covered?

The free vaccine will be extended to people who are on the shielded patient list and members of their household, as well as all school year groups up to Year 7.

Also eligible are:

●      People aged over 65

●      Pregnant women

●      Those with pre-existing conditions including at-risk children under two years old.

Last flu season’s target was for 25 million people to receive the vaccination in England, but according to PHE’s annual flu report, 15,344,033 patients were vaccinated, the DHSC said. This included those over 65, those in clinical at-risk groups, pregnant women, children aged two to three years, all primary school aged children, and healthcare workers.