Health secretary Matt Hancock has said that this year will bring the ‘biggest flu vaccination programme in history’, requiring a joint effort between GPs and pharmacies.
It comes as GPs were last week told to ‘gear up for a major expansion of the winter flu programme’ as part of the QOF arrangements for 2020/21, with reports the Government may look at vaccinating everyone over the age of 50.
But this comes as GPs look set to face ‘unprecedented’ flu vaccine shortages as manufacturers have said they may not be able to provide additional stock being ordered for this winter.
Speaking at the National Pharmacy Association annual conference – held virtually today – Mr Hancock told delegates the Government is ‘expecting high demand’ as it plans for winter.
He said: ‘We all know that having had an incredibly difficult six months, the next big moment is as winter approaches. We’re currently planning in detail for winter and we’re expecting high demand.
‘We’re working hard on a combination of the Covid vaccination programme, should a vaccine work – the science on that is as yet unproven. And of course, the biggest flu vaccination programme in history.’
He told delegates: ‘We’re going to frankly need to use all of the capabilities at our disposal to deliver the vaccine programmes that we need to in the months ahead.’
Pharmacies will play a ‘critical role’ in the ‘huge amount of work to do’, including the flu vaccine rollout he added.
Meanwhile, Mr Hancock reiterated that community pharmacists can take on 20m GP appointments for patients with minor illnesses to ‘take pressure off GPs’ and ‘deliver a better service’.
They can do ‘much more’ to alleviate pressure in general practice, he added.
He said: ‘I’m keen to see people with minor illnesses referred to community pharmacy – to take pressure off GPs, and crucially deliver a better service.
‘Twenty million GP appointments could be referred to community pharmacists every year. And there’s much much more that you can do.’
Community pharmacies are an ‘untapped resource’ and the Government goal is to ensure they can operate ‘at the top of their licence’, he added.
Patients calling NHS 111 with minor conditions are referred for same-day consultations at their local pharmacy under the five-year community pharmacy contract last year.
The consultation service launched in October but has been paused during the pandemic.
If successful, GPs and A&E could start referring patients to the service within the next five years.