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Immunisation commissioner visits to practices beneficial for relationship building, study finds

by Valeria Fiore
25 January 2019

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Commissioners’ visits to GP practices to improve childhood immunisation uptake are beneficial for relationship building between the two parties, a study has found.
The study, Embedding commissioner visits to general practices to improve childhood immunisations, was published in the British Journal of Healthcare Management.
It studied data from 265 practices in London between October 2015 and April 2016 to find out what impact immunisation commissioner visits have in general practice.
During that time, nine immunisation commissioners visited practices to understand the factors that influence vaccination service provision.
Practice managers were present at all visits, which sometimes also included GPs and nurses.
‘Relationship building’
The commissioners felt that visiting the practices allowed them to gain insight into the pressures their providers face and found that practice staff often have a negative perception of NHS England.
The commissioners said that the process was time consuming, as they had to identify a practice manager and arrange a visit with them.
However, they also felt that immunisation visits were valuable in building strong relationships with practices.
Practice staff used the visits to ask the commissioners payment and immunisation programme advice.
In some cases, commissioners created action plans for the practices they visited or let the practice managers develop their own.
Through the visits, commissioners also became more conscious of low staffing levels and the lack of awareness of the importance of vaccination among different patient groups, despite practices’ efforts to educate them.
Catherine Heffernan, co-author of the study and principal advisor for commissioning immunisations and vaccination services at NHS England, said that although commissioners should organise these visits with practices, ‘practice managers should facilitate them.
She added: ‘They are very crucial in understanding the importance of vaccinations and in ensuring that staff are trained to answer questions and more importantly proactive in getting people vaccinated’. 
Ms Heffernan said she would encourage embedding commissioner visits to practices to improve childhood immunisations.
However, she said she would recommend commissioners not to base their visits on cover of vaccination evaluated rapidly (COVER) data, the nationally published statistics.
She said: ‘People can use it to open the conversation but need to be mindful that they are not a direct reflection of what’s on GP practice systems.’