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GP practices delivering Covid vaccinations ‘for free or at a loss’, survey reveals

by Nicola Merrifield
28 July 2021

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More than 40% of GPs in England say their practice either broke even or made a financial loss by taking part in the first phase of the Covid-19 vaccination programme, a specialist Pulse Intelligence survey has revealed.

The survey, of almost 100 GP partners and managers with access to practices’ financial accounts, showed 32% broke even (31 respondents) while 10% (10) lost money.

In one case, the estimated loss was £100,000 for a practice serving over 10,000 patients.

Another similarly large practice lost £20,000, while two others with fewer than 10,000 patients estimated they were each £5,000 out of pocket.

GPs and practice managers indicated financial losses were caused by the extra staffing needed for the service, which paid £12.58 per jab through NHS England’s DES.

However, 44% of survey respondents said they made a profit from phase 1 of the vaccination programme – which ran from December 2020 until April 2021, and saw jabs given to over-50s and clinically vulnerable patients.

A total of 14% said they ‘don’t know’ the impact on their finances from the scheme.

Among those making a profit (43), sums of between £1,000 and £10,000 were typically reported though one practice made £42,000.

Two practice managers reported profits of £50,000, with one explaining they ‘utilised surgery staff and volunteers to deliver the programme’, adding that they had ‘no estates costs for hire of the venue’.

The specialist survey, carried out in May by Pulse’s practice business platform Pulse Intelligence about the impact of Covid-19 on finances, also revealed:

  • 45% of 190 GP partners/practice managers expect overall practice profits to decrease in 2020/21, with 26% saying they will ‘stay the same’
  • 40% said their practice income in 2020/21 decreased, with 30% reporting it ’stayed the same’
  • Reduced minor surgery was the most common reason for experiencing a loss in income (48%), followed by a drop in routine immunisations other than children’s (36%) and also local authority LES payments (33%)
  • 40% (of around 120 respondents) said their PPE costs were not reimbursed by the NHS, while 30% said they were unable to reclaim locum fees

GPs losing out on cash from the Covid vaccination programme highlighted the sheer volume of work involved – on top of providing normal GP services – and large amount of staff time taken up.

One partner in Blackpool explained their service had ‘financially broke even’, but that due to ‘practice work and staffing’, they had lost out.

Another GP partner who made a loss, based in Durham, said: ‘[The vaccination programme] needed lot[s] of management time…clinical oversight and.. [a] lot of chasing up to do.’

Dr Matt Mayer, chief executive of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire LMCs, said the lack of money some practices had earned from vaccinations demonstrated the sacrifices GPs were willing to make.

He said: ‘The fact that the Covid vaccination programme is yielding little profit to practices – and even sometimes a loss – is further testament to the enormous sacrifice GPs and their teams are making in leading this national programme.’

NHS England declined to comment on the survey findings.

GPs were invited to join the first phase of the Covid vaccination programme at the end of 2020 by signing up via a local primary care network (PCN), with recent data indicating the GP-led sites delivered more than two in three of all Covid vaccinations during the first phase.

But just over one in five of the 1,032 PCNs that delivered the first phase of the Covid vaccination programme opted out of the second phase, according to official NHS England figures, obtained by Management in Practice‘s sister title Pulse.

NHS England said last week that it is ‘not operationally feasible’ for GP to offer Covid booster jabs, being planned for this autumn, at a practice level – and has said GP involvement will be capped at providing 75% of the vaccines.

For the full survey results and analysis of the findings, go to Pulse Intelligence.

This story was first published on our sister title Pulse.