Locum GPs are now part of the cohort eligible for free flu vaccination under the updated flu DES published today, which also retained the item-of-service fee for practices at £10.06 per dose.
The updated contract reflects changes to the national programme including this year’s expanded cohort announced in July.
However, the document, agreed by NHS England and the BMA’s GP Committee, also lists locum GPs under those eligible for the free jab.
It said that practices should deliver the jab ‘in sufficient time’ to protect patients ‘before the virus starts circulating’ and aim to complete the programme by the end of November.
However, it added that practices should schedule delivery ‘to match vaccine supply’ and that there may be ‘additional advice’ from Public Health England ‘if there are issues with vaccine supply’ during the flu season.
The document said: ‘Vaccination should be given in sufficient time to ensure patients are protected before the virus starts circulating.
‘Practices should aim to schedule their immunisation services to match vaccine supply and complete vaccination by the end of November, where possible. ‘
It added: ‘Practices will be expected to meet the national ambitions for all patient cohorts as given in the annual flu letter.’
The DES also reiterated that the programme may be extended in November and December to include patients aged between 50 and 64, ‘subject to vaccine supply and after existing eligible groups have been prioritised’.
It said that the ‘phased eligibility’ of this cohort will be ‘formally announced later in the flu season’ and that these patients are not eligible for vaccination under the programme until announced.
It added: ‘Each year group will be considered separately, but an announcement of an extension may relate to just one year group or more than one year group.
‘Decisions to extend to a specified year group or groups will have followed normal authorisation process for these decisions and will then be published, together with the start date for the extension, and communicated to GP practices via the primary care bulletin.’
The BMA’s GPC ‘will be informed ahead of an announcement’, it said.
Dr Mark Sanford-Wood, BMA GPC deputy chair, said: ‘The priority for practices at the moment is to ensure patients who are currently eligible for vaccinations receive them.
‘If this group is extended as announced earlier this year, then this will come later in the season, and the Government and NHSE/I need to work with the BMA and practices to ensure they are given adequate time to prepare ahead of any further announcement.’
He added: ‘We’re expecting more guidance to support practices delivering this year’s programme very soon.’
The document added that practices must ensure they offer the jab to ‘all eligible patients’, including via a ‘proactive’ call and recall for those considered ‘at-risk’ as well as a ‘proactive’ call for those not considered at-risk ‘with the aim of maximising uptake’.
It said practices should ‘make all reasonable effort’ to ensure eligible patients who are ‘physically unable to attend the practice’ are vaccinated, although it stopped short of explicitly recommending home visits.
It said: ‘Where the patient or parent/guardian where appropriate has indicated they/their child wish to receive the vaccination but it is physically unable to attend the practice (for example is housebound) the practice must make all reasonable effort to ensure the patient is vaccinated.’
Meanwhile, GP practices must record patient ethnicity as part of updated flu DES for the 2020/21 vaccination programme.
The DES said practices must make ‘at least’ one attempt to gather patients’ ethnicity data as part of the programme.
It said: ‘Practices must include within at least one written communication (including letters and SMS text messages) offering vaccination to eligible patients, a request that the patient advises the practice of their ethnicity status if they have not previously provided this information to the practice and where provided by the patient or their carer, the practice must record the ethnicity information in the patient record.’
It added that GPs should deliver pneumococcal vaccinations to eligible patients ‘throughout the year’ rather than alongside the flu programme ‘until further notice’, due to ‘supply constraints’.
It said: ‘Due to vaccine supply constraints, practices are requested to vaccinate eligible patients throughout the year rather than in line with the seasonal influenza vaccination programme to ensure a consistent flow of vaccine availability throughout the year.’
According to the document, the flu programme is set to run from 1 September 2020 to 31 March 2021 – although practices should aim to complete delivery by the end of November.
Practices will be invited to participate by their CCG by 7 September and all those who take part must respond to commissioners ‘no later than 14 September’, it added.
It comes as health secretary Matt Hancock has this week been urged to stop unhealthy competition between GPs and pharmacists over flu jabs.
And last week, the Government launched a consultation that suggested that the workforce that can administer vaccines, including for flu and potentially Covid-19, be significantly expanded.
This year, NHS England is targeting 75% uptake of flu vaccinations in at-risk groups, as well as those aged over 50, shielded patients and their households and all school year groups up to Year 7.
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