The Government has decided to cut the fee GPs are paid for Covid-19 vaccinations by a quarter, prompting BMA to issue a patient safety warning.
NHS England has published the new 20023/24 enhanced service specification for Covid vaccines to be delivered between 1 September and 31 March next year, setting out that GPs will be paid £7.54 for each vaccine administered – down from £10.06 – and continue to be paid £10 for each housebound patient.
The fee had already been reduced from £12.58 last year, when the BMA advised GPs to review whether they were still able to fulfil the ES commitments.
The new specification said that practices with ‘sufficient workforce capacity so as not to impact the delivery of essential services and appropriately trained and experienced staff’ must indicate their willingness to participate in the programme before 5pm on 29 August.
But the BMA said that that NHS England’s decision to reduce the Covid fee ‘undervalues general practice and threatens the safety of vulnerable patients’.
The fee reduction comes after a series of talks between the BMA and NHS England, in which the union made clear that many practices would find it difficult to deliver the Covid vaccination programme this autumn with a 25% fee reduction.
Dr Katie Bramall-Stainer, chair of the BMA’s GP Committee for England, said: ‘During Covid, GPs and their practice teams demonstrated that they could deliver an effective world beating vaccination programme in challenging circumstances.
‘Patients and GPs alike will despair that NHSE has announced substantial cuts to funding and resource of this national vaccination programme on the same day as news stories detail the arrival of a fresh Covid variant.
‘At a time when we should be learning from history, particularly around the importance and value of protecting our patients and minimising hospital admissions this winter, it is disappointing that practices will be put in a position where they are no longer able to deliver this, through no fault of their own due to short-sighted cuts.
‘The Covid vaccine delivery process is twice as long as administering flu jabs, and NHSE knows this. Our patients and communities need to be protected, and our practices resourced and supported to undertake this important work.’
An NHS spokesperson told our sister publication Pulse that: ‘The revised fee will sufficiently cover the average cost of vaccinating someone against Covid as part of what is now a more predictable, seasonal offer.
‘The NHS is working with vaccine sites to ensure a growing number offer both flu and Covid vaccinations at the same time where possible, to make it more convenient for people to get this life-saving protection ahead of winter, with additional payment available for a double jab in a single visit.’
But the Institute of General Practice Management (IPGM) said many patients did not want two jabs in one visit: ‘Where patients choose to have the vaccines given separately – as many of them do as they fear the potential side effects – practices will still only be paid £7.54 for the Covid vaccine despite two appointments and two separate administrative processes being required.’
It is thought that the new fee covers the cost of vaccinating a patient, based on an assumption of five minutes for a typical vaccination and taking into account workforce, administrative and overhead costs.
Meanwhile, it’s been announced which groups will be eligible for the Covid-19 booster vaccine this autumn. They are:
- residents in a care home for older adults
- all adults aged 65 years and over
- persons aged 6 months to 64 years in a clinical risk group
- frontline health and social care workers
- persons aged 12 to 64 years who are household contacts of people with immunosuppression
- persons aged 16 to 64 years who are carers and staff working in care homes for older adults.
Its recommendation, accepted in full by the Government, has been that the target completion date should be early December in order to ‘optimise protection over the winter months’.
The Government has said that further advice on the choice of vaccine products this autumn will follow in due course.
A version of this story first appeared on our sister publication Pulse.