Exclusive The start date for the adult flu and covid vaccination programmes – initially set for 1 September – has been delayed until October, NHS England has confirmed.
However, vaccinations for flu in school-aged children and for pre-schoolers will start on September 1, as planned.
But late yesterday an NHS England spokesperson said both adult flu and covid programmes were expected to start a month later.
The spokesperson said: ‘The adult flu and covid vaccination programmes are expected to start in October. This is to maximise protection for patients right across the winter months when it is typically colder, and viruses are more likely to spread with people spending more time indoors.’
‘The NHS is working to ensure a growing number of vaccine sites across England offer both flu and Covid-19 vaccines in the same visit, to make it as convenient as possible for people to get life-saving protection from both viruses ahead of winter,’ they added.
Management in Practice is still trying to clarify whether practices will be paid should they start vaccinating before October.
The BMA has now requested an urgent meeting with the Government to clarify timings since it says the profession hasn’t been consulted on any changes and delaying the programmes beyond September will compromise public health and cause serious disruption for practices.
Dr Katie Bramall-Stainer, chair of the BMA’s GP Committee England has written to MP Maria Caulfield, parliamentary under-secretary of State for mental health and women’s health strategy.
She said: ‘Making this kind of change, and without any consultation with the profession, will have a direct knock-on effect for patients and wider public health. Practices plan at least six months in advance for the flu vaccination season, and many will have already got everything in place for this to work: clinics will have been arranged and appointments booked. Pushing this back a month will cause serious disruption ahead of what will no doubt be another difficult winter.’
The delay has also prompted criticism from the Institute of General Practice Management (IGPM).
In an open letter to Dr Kiren Collison, GP and Interim Medical Director for Primary Care at NHS England, the IGPM said that it was concerned about the ‘mixed messaging’ to practices and warnings that practice wouldn’t be paid for any jabs administered before October.
The letter said, in contrast to the enhanced service specification, practice managers had been told by their ICBs and local immunisation team that flu vaccines must not take place until ‘at least the beginning of October’ with the ‘stark warning that we will not get paid for any that we administer prior to this date’.
The IGPM said it was also worried about the potential impact on a practice by delaying administration to vulnerable populations.
‘We are concerned that if we receive our flu vaccines in September but withhold administration until October as per guidance and then have a patient become poorly with influenza, could we potentially be held as ‘morally negligent’ as we have failed to deliver something that we have in stock?’
Community Pharmacy England, the representative body for community pharmacy owners in England, has also criticised the delayed start to the flu programme saying it will cause ‘administrative chaos’.
‘Pharmacy owners have already ordered their vaccines and opened booking systems to include the provision of flu vaccines in September, based on the approach taken for the last seven years and supported by previous NHS messaging to the public to get vaccinated as soon as possible in the autumn,’ said the body.