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PHE may downgrade PPE requirements for flu vaccinations, suggests NHSE

NHS England is in discussions with Public Health England about potential changes to PPE requirements during flu clinics.

It made the comments in response to GPs’ concerns regarding the sheer amount of PPE that will be required to deliver this year’s expanded flu campaign.

The current guidance on immunisations during the Covid-19 pandemic says gloves and aprons must be changed after every patient, while masks and visors can be worn for a whole session.

This year, NHS England is targeting 75% uptake of flu vaccinations in at-risk groups, while all shielding patients and their households; all over-50s; and all school year groups up to Year 7 have been added to the list of patients eligible for free jabs.

During an NHS England webinar for GPs on Thursday evening, one GP wrote in the Q&A field that they may not be able to ‘guarantee’ flu clinics can go ahead if they are short of PPE.

They said: ‘Please can it be confirmed if gloves and aprons should be changed after every patient?

’With over 8,000 to vaccinate we will need to stockpile now to guarantee the clinics being able to go ahead.’

Another warned that PPE supply was ‘the key factor to giving [flu jabs]’.

And a third asked about whether aprons could be used for the whole session, using hand gel between each jab.

Last week’s flu letter said GPs should follow current PPE guidance for immunisations during the pandemic, but responding to the Q&A, NHS England wrote that PPE requirements are ‘currently being explored’.

They added: ‘We appreciate that practices have concerns about the implications of this and are discussing these with PHE [and the RCGP]…

‘PHE is considering revised guidance for all immunisation services, this will be published as appropriate.’

The webinar also revealed that NHS England intends to publish funding details for this year’s flu season ‘by the end of August’.

Contract negotiations for the updated immunisation DES specification are still ongoing with the BMA’s GP Committee, they said, while any claims for payment will have to be made by individual practices even if the programme is delivered at scale across a primary care network.

Further on the topic of PPE, NHS England medical director for primary care Dr Nikki Kanani announced that ‘more than half’ of practices are now signed up to receive PPE from the Government portal.

She urged the remainder to do so ‘as soon as possible’ because the Government wants practices to use the portal for ‘all PPE ordering’ going forward.

‘Hopefully that will eventually be a helpful adjunct to making sure that you have confidence in the supply,’ she said.

As of today, the Government has added hand gel to the items GPs can order from the portal. GPs with fewer than 8,000 patients can now order ‘one bottle of hand hygiene (usually 500ml)’ per week, while those with 8,000 or more patients can order double the amounts.

Meanwhile, GPs have also raised concerns about having enough flu vaccine stock, although the DHSC has said it will make details available for how to order extra from a Government stockpile by September.

The DHSC has previously told Pulse that there will be enough stock to vaccinate over 30m people.

But NHS England’s flu letter last week revealed that those aged 50-64 will only be offered free vaccinations in November-December, subject to availability, which led GPs to worry about having to turn ‘angry’ patients away.

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