GPs want the influenza immunisation programme offered by community pharmacists in England scrapped unless a national review proves that it has increased the total number of people being vaccinated.
The British Medical Association (BMA), a trade union and professional body for doctors in the UK, is calling for an evaluation of the scheme for at-risk patient groups, which will be delivered as an advanced service for the winter flu season in 2016–2017. NHS England announced it was recommissioning the service on 9 May 2016.
The move by the BMA is the clearest indication yet of GPs’ unease with community pharmacists taking over some of their vaccination work.
The union says it is “vital” that the vaccination process is offered in the most “effective way” and says it has “concerns” about the service being delivered by community pharmacists.
“At present there is still not conclusive evidence that this particular scheme has demonstrated a significant increase in overall uptake over the last flu season,” a spokesperson for the BMA said in a statement on 9 May 2016. “The current decision to recommission is therefore one that many GPs will be surprised at. There must now be a serious commitment to a full review of the project during its second year and if it fails to be shown that it has increased total uptake it should not be recommissioned next year.”
The BMA’s comments follow similar misgivings by GPs when community pharmacists were first commissioned by NHS England in 2015 to offer the vaccination service as an option under their national contract. According to figures from NHS England, community pharmacists vaccinated 240,259 patients in 2015–2016 out of a total of 10 million vaccinations given as part of the national programme.
The decision to recommission the service for a second year running was, however, welcomed by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS).
Sandra Gidley, chair of the RPS English Pharmacy Board, says: “This is great news for patients, and an excellent way of demonstrating that pharmacists can routinely be turned to for preventive healthcare.
“Flu vaccinations are a great example of how pharmacists can help ease overstretched GP surgeries. Close and effective collaboration with our GP colleagues should help make this year even more successful in terms of delivery,” she adds.
The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), the negotiating body for community pharmacy contractors in England, says guidance will be issued once more details are known. However, NHS England has confirmed that the terms and fees will remain the same as for 2015–2016.