GP hopes that individual practices would be able to contract to administer Covid booster jabs this autumn have been dashed in new NHS England guidance published today.
The guidance said that offering the vaccinations at individual practice level was ‘not operationally feasible’.
Publishing the enhanced service specification for the ‘phase three’ vaccination programme due to start in September, NHS England also confirmed that the co-administration of flu and Covid jabs will take place in ‘trusts, residential care homes, to housebound patients and in other residential settings’.
However, it said that GP practices ‘should continue to plan as usual for this year’s flu season’, with further guidance on the flu programme to follow.
Practices have been given until 28 July to opt in to the programme, which is provisionally due to start on 6 September.
A letter to GP practices said: ‘We have considered carefully whether we could support the administration of the Covid-19 booster vaccines at individual practice level. For a number of reasons, this is not operationally feasible.
‘This is largely due to the need to expand the capacity in the delivery network (to deliver the Covid booster programme alongside the flu programme) but it will only be possible to on-board a limited number of new sites during the summer; the supply chain cannot support deliveries to all practice sites; and it is possible the vaccine characteristics will require at scale working.’
It added: ‘For these reasons practices that wish to participate in the booster programme will need to do so as part of a PCN grouping. We will also give practices the opportunity to change their PCN grouping in phase three if they so wish, taking account of feedback in phase two.’
NHS England also confirmed that a payment of £12.58 will be made to the lead practice of each PCN grouping for each vaccine administered.
An additional £10 will be paid per jab delivered to care home residents and staff and housebound patients, as well as homeless people living in a hostel or hotel ‘where it would not be possible for these patients to attend vaccination sites’, it said.
‘Further additional reasonable costs funding will be available to PCN groupings delivering Covid-19 vaccinations in phase three’ – as well as to those delivering flu jabs – it added.
BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey called for GPs to be given the ‘support and flexibility’ to take part in the booster programme ‘in a way that works best for their patients’.
He said: ‘People know that their GP practice is the best place to get routine vaccinations and nothing shows this more than the annual flu campaign and most recently, the Covid-19 vaccination rollout.
‘So it’s incredibly frustrating to see NHS England once again disregard the voice of hardworking GPs, ignoring our calls – specifically by not doing more to enable all practices to give vaccinations from within their own premises if that’s what they wish to do.’
He added: ‘If they were able to do so, it could limit the impact of the booster campaign on other important GP services. It would also mean GPs and their teams could offer opportunistic vaccinations to patients attending with other illnesses – a strategy that we know increases uptake for flu jabs.
‘Elsewhere in the UK, we have seen GPs giving Covid-19 vaccinations from within their surgery buildings, so there is no good reason for it not to happen in England. And while practices should be able to work together in the campaign, this should not be mandated.’
Earlier this month, NHS England published interim guidance on the booster programme which capped GP involvement in Covid booster jabs at 75% of delivery and said that practices are ‘actively encouraged’ to pool flu vaccines to enable co-administration with the Covid vaccine at a PCN grouping level.
Meanwhile, Pulse revealed last month that almost 60% of GP partners taking part in the Covid vaccination programme want to administer the jabs from their own site but have not had the opportunity.
The Pulse survey of GP partners also found that 5% of practices that were taking part in phase one of the Covid vaccination programme opted out of phase two because they were unable to administer the jabs themselves.
Health secretary Matt Hancock also previously said that he will investigate the possibility of Covid vaccinations being administered from individual GP practices.