The National Pharmacy Association has written to NHS England to argue that its members have a legal basis on which to seek compensation should they incur losses owing to the delayed start date of the NHS flu vaccination service in England.
The service specification for the 2023/2024 community pharmacy seasonal flu vaccination programme, published by NHS England on 4 August 2023, stated: “The service commencement date will be announced and authorised by the commissioner in the Primary Care Bulletin”, with NHS England confirming at the time that this would be in October, rather than 1 September as it has been in previous years.
However, pharmacy bodies expressed concern that pharmacies had ordered vaccines and booked in patients for vaccinations based on a 1 September 2023 start date.
Then, on 10 August 2023, pharmacy bodies, including the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) and Community Pharmacy England (CPE), wrote a letter to the health secretary, Steve Barclay, calling for “immediate intervention” on the start of the flu vaccination programme, in response to which NHS England agreed that it would fund pharmacy flu vaccinations that had already been booked.
Welcoming this concession, Mark Lyonette, chief executive of the NPA, said in a statement on 21 August 2023: “[The NPA] still maintains that it is a mistake to throw a previously successful NHS scheme into confusion by delaying the start date.
“NPA members have, at their own risk, procured stock with a legitimate expectation that the service would be commissioned as normal.”
In its statement, the NPA said it had taken legal advice and “decided to escalate the matter, both to affect the current situation and to send a message about the need for due process in the future”.
The NPA also noted in the statement that its concerns had been escalated in a letter to Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England.
“NHS England should expect to be held responsible for financial losses incurred — including wasted stock, additional storage costs and additional staffing costs — resulting from the late announcement to delay the NHS flu service,” said Lyonette, adding that the NPA will help its members “determine whether they have suffered a loss and have a realistic prospect of a successful claim for compensation”.
“Even at this late stage, NHS England could choose to revert to usual practice, in order to maximise the effectiveness of this year’s flu campaign,” he added.
“However, we think it is right to warn them of the possible consequences if they choose not to do so.”
A spokesperson for NHS England said that it “has received the letter and will consider a response”.