GPs may see their older patients being vaccinated against flu at local pharmacies instead of at their practices, due to a shortage of the vaccine for over 65s.
This is because surgeries will receive the adjuvanted trivalent flu vaccine in a phased process over three months, meaning that they risk running out between deliveries and having to turn patients away.
NHS England has said that patients can go to local pharmacies if their GP runs out, meaning that practices could miss out on payments.
This advise comes as part of the guidance on delivering the flu vaccination programme for 2018/19, issued by NHS England this month, which will see practices administering three different types: the adjuvanted trivalent flu vaccine (aTIV), quadrivalent vaccine (QIV), and live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV).
But the aTIV, which is licensed for people aged 65 years and over, will be delivered to practices and pharmacies in three batches, with 40% delivered in September, 20% in October, and 40% in November.
Due to this, the guidelines ask practices to write to all eligible patients, as well as calling them, and to use the ‘profile of their population aged 65 years and over to inform the phasing of invitations’, matching them against the aTIV deliveries.
NHS England said in the report: ‘Practices and pharmacies should make patients aware of when they expect their next delivery of aTIV. It is important to stress to them that they should return for vaccination as having vaccines in October or November will not be too late to benefit from its protective effect.’
But it also says that ‘patients can make enquires at the pharmacy if their practice currently has no vaccine’.
This could mean that practices miss out on vaccination dispensing fees, as patients turn to pharmacies instead of waiting for the next practice delivery.
This issue was initially highlighted in 2015, when the national flu programme opened up to allow pharmacists to administer to vaccinations, which the GP Committee warned could leave practices out of pocket.
BMA GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘The forthcoming flu campaign is going to be difficult for practices and patients because of the phased delivery of vaccine which is related to the limited availability of the aTIV.
‘It is though vitally important that patients are given the best vaccine that offers the most effective protection, and it would be better to wait for that rather than giving patients vaccinations that provide much less protection. Public health bodies will have an important role in getting this message across to patients this year.’
GPs have previously raised concerns about receiving a large amount of the vaccines well into flu season, and were advised to vaccinate as many under 65s as early as possible, in the hope that this will stop flu spreading.