GPs have spoken out against the expansion of Covid vaccine delivery to community pharmacies, saying they have capacity to deliver much more than they are receiving.
It comes as the health secretary has reiterated that supply remains the ‘limiting factor’ for the Covid vaccination programme.
NHS England has approved around 200 community pharmacy vaccination sites to go live this month, under a local enhanced service that will see them paid the same £12.58 fee per vaccine administered.
The community pharmacy enhanced service specification, published last month, said that these would be set up where there is a ‘gap in service provision or need for additional capacity’.
But GPs are continuing to face issues with deliveries that mean they are in need of additional supply rather than further capacity.
Whitstable PCN clinical director Dr John Ribchester told Pulse that his practice was due a delivery last Friday that ‘never happened’.
He said: ‘We have the capability in Whitstable of doing 1,000 a day [and] we have teams of staff ready, willing and able to do two days a week – which is 2,000 a week – and yet we’re lucky if we get 1,000 a week.
‘We’ve done just over 4,000 [vaccinations at our drive-through centre] so far. We could’ve done a lot more if we were supplied with the vaccine.’
Dr Ribchester added: ‘I’ve got no objection to pharmacists taking part where there’s no one else doing it, but we’ve got a fast and efficient service running – why not supply them?
‘We don’t need more people vaccinating, we need more vaccines.’
He called for vaccine delivery to move from the current ‘unpredictable’ ‘push’ system to a ‘robust’ ‘pull’ system, so GPs can ‘order what they need [and] get it on the day they need it’.
And Camden GP Dr Aythen Sohrabe told Pulse that it’s ‘not fair’ that individual community pharmacies can sign up to receive orders directly while practices can only get supply via PCN hubs.
He said: ‘It’s a disaster if you give them deliveries and a special contract – while us as GPs have to fight for our delivery to our practice.
‘We know how we can do it – if I had 500 doses of Astra Zeneca today I can finish them by tomorrow.’
And Dr Sohrabe, who is helping to lead the Covid vaccination hub at Belsize Priory Health Centre, added that pharmacies lack access to the data about which patients are most at risk that GPs have in their patient records.
Others took to Twitter to express frustration about the expansion, with some suggesting pharmacies are getting ‘preferential access’ to vaccine stock.
NHS England medical director for primary care Dr Nikki Kanani responded to the comments, saying PCNs receive the ‘vast majority’ of vaccine stock.
It comes as the health secretary has admitted that the vaccine programme’s ‘limiting factor’ remains supply rather than capacity.
Speaking at a Number 10 press briefing on Monday, Matt Hancock said: ‘We’re prioritising the supply of the vaccine into those parts of the country that need to complete the over-80s.
‘Supply is the rate limiting factor – the NHS has brilliantly been able to deliver the amount of supply that we have available ready to go out.’
Last week, the BMA urged the Government to prioritise GP hubs for limited Covid vaccine supplies and provide reassurance that ‘supply will keep up with demand’.
And GPs reported that vaccine deliveries were being cancelled with no warning amid new guidance banning delivery of second doses.
Meanwhile, earlier this month NHS England boss Sir Simon Stevens suggested that NHS ‘team spirit’ would overcome vaccine delivery issues.
Additional reporting by Nicola Merrifield and Eleanor Philpotts