Exclusive The Government’s pharmacy flu vaccination scheme is leaving GP practices with a predicted £4m bill without reaching intended groups, GP leaders have claimed.
The latest immunisation data from the Pharmaceutical Negotiating Services Committee showed that pharmacies have administered some 470,000 (5%) out of 8.9m flu vaccinations recorded by Public Health England to date this season.
The GPC said the figures could translate to a combined £4m loss to practices in flu payments, money they had budgeted to provide other key services throughout the year.
NHS England announced the new pharmacy scheme over the summer, which it said would help boost uptake in ‘hard to reach’ patients, but the GPC warned pilots have consistently shown that pharmacy schemes do not change the overall number vaccinated – and that national scheme would undermine practices.
PHE has said the latest figures on flu immunisation uptake are ‘encouraging’ but GP leaders said the uptake remained largely the same as at the same stage last year. Although there was a marginal increase among some groups compared to last year, including pregnant women, concerns remained about coverage in other risk groups under 65.
And LMC leaders said there was no signs that the pharmacy scheme was reaching the hard-to-reach groups that the Government had targeted, who would not normally visit their GP.
Dr Andrew Green, chair of the GPC clinical and prescribing subcommittee, said: ‘What is clear is that while GPs continue to do the grunt-work for the vaccination programme, providing care to about 19 out of every 20 patients, they are being deprived of resources required to fund their practices.
‘The loss of 5% of vaccinations equates to at least £4m of resource being unexpectedly lost to GPs – money which will have been budgeted to provide services throughout the year.’
Dr John Grenville, secretary of Derbyshire LMC, said: ‘I don’t think we’re seeing an increase in overall uptake in any of the groups – I think we’re just seeing a redistribution of who is being done where.’
Solihull LMC secretary Dr Peter Scott said ‘around one in 20’ eligible patients who would usually have been vaccinated at the practice in previous years had opted to be seen in a pharmacy instead.
He said: ‘That has been the figure, so we are left with 5% of our vaccine undesignated. These are all low-hanging fruit. Not one of them was by any definition what I would call a hard-to-reach patient, a patient who would not ordinarily have seen us. None was receiving their first flu jab.’
NHS England said that as with ‘all new schemes’, this one would be reviewed and evaluated ahead of next year’s flu season but maintained that patients had benefited.
A spokesperson said: ‘The new community pharmacy service extends choice for patients wishing to get their flu vaccination in an accessible and convenient location.
Since the scheme got underway GP leaders have been warning this year’s flu immunisation campaign risked becoming a ‘shambles’, partly because of confusion caused by pharmacists, with some wrongly informing people their GP is too busy to give them the jab this year.
Correction: The story was updated 18 Dec to clarify that the £4m loss to practices is due to lost item of service fees, rather than unused vaccine