GPs are being left with little time to plan flu clinics, as NHS England confirmed eligibility will only be extended to those aged 50-64 ‘if circumstances permit’.
LMCs told Pulse that this ‘uncertainty’ means ‘planning any meaningful flu promotion campaign for this group’ is ‘very difficult’ for practices.
The Department of Health and Social Care told Pulse guidance was due shortly.
It comes as some GPs have been forced to cancel flu clinics for vulnerable patients amid delays to vaccine deliveries.
Previously, NHS England said that the new cohort of people aged 50-64 will not be eligible until November at the earliest, and subject to stock availability.
But GPs warned that public messaging has been unhelpful and they may have to turn away ‘angry’ patients whose expectations about being offered a free jab are not met.
In its latest board papers, NHS England confirmed that those aged 50-64 ‘may’ be included ‘if circumstances permit’.
The papers said: ‘A major expansion of the flu vaccination programme is underway, with additional vaccines to be made available from November 2020.
‘Eligible cohorts will be expanded to include households of “shielding” patients and Year 7 children and may be expanded to include 50-64-year olds if circumstances permit.’
They added that ‘alternative’ delivery models are being designed and that acute providers are being ‘encouraged’ to vaccinate clinically ‘at-risk’ patients and pregnant women at outpatient or inpatient visits.
Londonwide LMCs told Pulse that it is urging NHS England for more details on whether and when those aged 50-64 might be added to the programme, with November just four weeks away.
A spokesperson said: ‘The uncertainty surrounding whether people aged 50-64 with no underlying conditions will receive a flu vaccination this year makes planning any meaningful flu promotion campaign for this group very difficult.
‘Most practices have normally finished the bulk of their flu clinics by November and December, when GPs and practice staff are needed to meet the peak of winter demand.’
They added: ‘Being asked to plan and run further flu clinics at short notice, particularly in the context of a second coronavirus wave and managing the backlog of demand currently flooding into general practice, will only exacerbate capacity problems.’
A DHSC spokesperson told Pulse that 50-64 year-olds will be vaccinated later in the season.
They reiterated that the Government has secured additional vaccine stock and is continuing to increase this to meet demand from the programme’s expansion – but that GPs should use their own stock ‘in the first instance’.
Further guidance on how GPs can access the additional central stock – which will be available to vaccinate those currently eligible for a free jab – will be issued shortly, they added.
However, speaking in a parliamentary debate on Monday, health secretary Matt Hancock notably omitted the 50-64 age group when Labour MP Stephen Doughty demanded to know whether there were in fact shortages.
Mr Hancock said: ‘When it comes to the flu vaccine, we have enough to vaccinate every single person who is in a priority group over the age of 65, those who are clinically vulnerable and the children who are eligible for it. We are rolling that out over the forthcoming months.’
The DHSC previously said there was ‘no national shortage’ of the flu vaccine and there are ‘enough doses’ to vaccinate 30m people in England.
Meanwhile, practices have been reminded to vaccinate locum patients following reports that locum GPs were finding it difficult to access flu jabs.
Additional reporting by Emma Wilkinson