GPs have warned that ‘time is running out’ for them to plan for this year’s expanded flu programme amid scant details about how it should be delivered.
Last week, the Government announced the expanded cohort for this year’s flu programme which will include all those over 50, shielded patients and their households and all school year groups up to Year Seven.
However, a spokesperson for NHS England told Pulse that the new flu letter setting out the details of the programme – including around payment – will be published in the next week or so.
North Staffs LMC secretary and BMA GP Committee policy lead on NHS England Dr Chandra Kanneganti told Pulse he is concerned about the ‘delay’ to the details as practices have until 1 September before the start of the programme.
He said: ‘My worry is that the time is running out. We need proper guidance – yes this letter is coming next week but that means it’s only one month left for general practice to plan.
‘We need to prepare and we only have just over a month and we don’t know where we’re going to get the PPE.’
And while practices will focus on the most at-risk patients to start with, they need guidance on when to start vaccinating the ‘huge chunk’ of additional groups, including those aged 50 to 64, Dr Kanneganti added.
However, he told Pulse that it will be ‘impossible’ for practices to deliver the programme in three months without other services or QOF work being reduced.
In Staffordshire, the eligible cohort has doubled from around 300,000 last year, he added.
He said: ‘At a rough estimate, in Staffordshire alone we have to vaccinate 600,000 people who are eligible. [We have] around 190 general practices to finish 600,000 – it’s going to be a big task.
‘If the Government is serious, they need to think about what other work they will ask us to stop so that we can focus on getting this immunisation to the record level to protect our population.’
Meanwhile, CCGs are taking matters into their own hands while they wait for official guidance.
Dr Kanneganti told Pulse that Stoke CCG has said it will support practices with ordering additional flu vaccine stock and ‘take care of the PPE’.
The CCG has been ‘proactive’ in forming a flu steering group with North Staffs LMC and the local NHS England team to coordinate and monitor progress on an ‘almost weekly basis’, he added.
And Essex CCGs are working together to ‘mobilise and deliver’ the programme, including exploring ‘additional provision’ if practices do not have enough capacity to deliver the programme.
In an email to practices seen by Pulse, the five Mid and South Essex CCGs said: ‘Given the scale of this year’s programme, it is likely that additional provision will need to be put in place. The CCGs will shortly circulate a capacity modelling template for practices to complete.’
Shielded patients and their households and children up to Year Seven will be among the 37m eligible for the free flu vaccination this year, as well all those aged over 50 as part of a staggered delivery ‘later in the season’, the Government announced on Friday.
Pulse revealed that GPs will be expected to use the flu stock they have already ordered to deliver the prorgamme in the first instance – although GPs have already expressed fears over ‘unprecedented’ flu vaccine shortages.
And Pulse revealed last week that one of the UK’s key suppliers of flu vaccines will not be able to get almost a third of ordered stock to GP practices until November.
Meanwhile, earlier this month the BMA said it was in discussions with NHS England about GPs using ‘sites other than practices’, such as marquees and car parks, to administer the flu jab this year.
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