Plans to announce the start date of the community pharmacy flu vaccination programme in 2023 through an NHS England newsletter have been described as “extremely frustrating” by Community Pharmacy England (CPE).
CPE said a delay to the start of the programme could affect patients who have booked to have an early flu jab, and pharmacies that have already ordered vaccines.
The service specification for the 2023/2024 community pharmacy seasonal flu vaccination programme, published by NHS England on 4 August 2023, says the service will “come into force on 1 September 2023 and shall continue until 31 March 2024”, but it states: “The service commencement date will be announced and authorised by the commissioner in the Primary Care Bulletin.
“The priority order for the administration of vaccinations to eligible patients will also be announced and authorised by the commissioner in the Primary Care Bulletin.”
Primary Care Bulletins contain health policy updates and are sent to primary care teams, including community pharmacies, usually once a week.
CPE said NHS England had advised that the programme was likely to begin in October 2023, subject to advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
The flu vaccination programme specification confirms that the cohort of people aged 50–64 years will not be included in the NHS flu vaccination programme in 2023. It also states that the delivery fee for a vaccination will be frozen from 2022 at £9.58.
Alastair Buxton, director of NHS Services at CPE, said: “Community pharmacy owners are facing impossible cost increases so it is deeply frustrating that NHS England — who have all the evidence they need on this — are refusing to recognise this in the flu vaccination fee.
“We are also extremely frustrated by NHS England’s insistence that the service specification is changed to allow them to determine the date for commencement of vaccinations, rather than the service starting on 1 September, as has previously been the case.
“We understand there may be a clinical rationale for a delayed start, subject to the advice of the JCVI, but it is not the behaviour of a responsible organisation to impose such a change without adequate prior notice being given to pharmacy owners. Notice should have been provided [in 2022], so the change in policy could have been reflected in pharmacy owners’ vaccine orders for the season and in their plans for booking advance appointments for patients wanting to be vaccinated in September.
“When NHS England first proposed this change several weeks ago, we strongly objected to this, due to the lack of adequate notice, but they were not willing to listen to our arguments on the impact it would have on pharmacy owners and their teams, or on the patients who have already booked their vaccination appointments in September.”
Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMP), said her organisation had received “a lot of feedback” from members concerned about the delay to the community pharmacy vaccine programme, as well as concern that some GP practices were suggesting to patients that they were planning to start their flu vaccination programme earlier in September.
“As such, I have written to NHS England senior executives this morning and highlighted all these concerns and shared some example of GP notes that members have forwarded to me,” she said.
“I also highlighted the worries by members regarding potential wastage of flu vaccine (and costs occurred) due to later vaccination start date and mentioned to NHS England that the costs could be significant and that this cannot be overlooked.”
Hannbeck added that AIMP members had also expressed concerns over a 25% cut in the fee for community pharmacies delivering COVID-19 vaccination boosters this winter.
NHS England also published its service specification, and expression of interest guidance, for a community pharmacy COVID-19 vaccination service to run from September 2023 to March 2024, on 4 August 2023.
The specification says that the fee paid will be £7.54 per COVID-19 vaccination, down from £10.06 during the winter 2022/23 programme. This itself was a cut from £12.58 per vaccination that community pharmacies had been paid prior to that.
CPE said the latest COVID-19 vaccination fee announcement “defies logic”.