Community pharmacy teams and those working in general practice in England will now be offered free NHS flu vaccinations, following a U-turn from NHS England.
A letter sent on 29 September 2021 to frontline primary care providers, including community pharmacies, said that additional funding had now been set aside to allow “general practices and community pharmacies to vaccinate all eligible primary care contractors”, including locums, for the current influenza season.
Plans sent out on 17 July 2021, from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHS England, did not include community pharmacy teams or those employed by GP practices as patient groups eligible for NHS flu vaccinations under the advanced service.
The change follows calls from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) and the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) for pharmacy teams to be included.
Claire Anderson, president of the RPS, had described it as “shocking” that pharmacists and their teams in England and Wales were not eligible for free flu vaccinations, and the RPS had demanded that the situation be “reviewed urgently”.
GP practices and community pharmacies will be able to claim an ‘item of service’ fee for vaccinating eligible staff and this can be backdated to 1 September 2021, when the advanced service began.
Thorrun Govind, chair of the RPS English Pharmacy Board, described the update from NHS England and NHS Improvement as a “victory for common sense.
“We are delighted the NHS in England has listened and given parity of access to flu vaccination to frontline pharmacy teams, who have played such a vital role in providing healthcare and Covid vaccinations during the pandemic.
“We’re also very pleased that locum staff are included in this move. No pharmacist or member of their team should be considered dispensable and left out of this important public health initiative.”
Alastair Buxton, director of NHS Services at the PSNC, said the update was “really welcome news for pharmacy contractors and their teams”, and added that the PSNC “will continue to push for this to happen on an ongoing basis”.
Scotland had already made plans to offer free flu vaccinations to community pharmacists and GP staff.
The Welsh government did not respond to a request for clarification on its policy on free flu vaccination in time for publication.
The announcement comes as the RPS, together with the Association of Pharmacy Technicians UK, published a survey asking for views on whether COVID-19 and flu vaccines should be mandatory for the pharmacy workforce. Responses will inform the Society’s response to a DHSC in England consultation on the matter.