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Finance diary, September: How to prepare for the flu season

Earnings from the flu vaccination campaign should rise in line with list size but in fact accountants know that results can vary significantly between practices of much the same size. In my experience, income can vary by several thousands of pounds between comparable practices with mid-sized (6-10,000-patient) lists.

Financially, the flu campaign is worth taking seriously by most practices. Every flu jab is worth £7.64 per patient, plus just over £2 if the practice purchases the vaccine themselves. Therefore if practices can provide the vaccinations through an efficient and low cost process – often through nurse-led clinics – they could receive a potential income of as much as £10 per jab.

However two things affect a practice’s potential to earn money in this service: the level of organisation in the delivery of the service, and the level of publicity the campaign gets.

A balance also needs to be struck between minimising staff overtime costs and making the flu campaign convenient for patients. For example, although retired patients are flexible, need little notice and happily attend within core hours, the same is not usually the case for patients in employment and are more likely to go to the local pharmacy and pay £12 or so for a vaccination at a time that suits them.

Therefore practices can take the following steps to ensure they strike that fine balance.  

Lots of publicity, and early

Dates of a flu clinic should be publicised to patients as far in advance as possible. Some practices will have already started a poster campaign (without clinic dates) in August, and all practices should pick a date for a clinic and publicise it in September. Rather than failing to plan a clinic because you don’t know when you’ll have the vaccines, take a chance on a date. If the vaccines are a week late, just cancel the clinic and reschedule it.

Attaching slips to repeat prescriptions costs little and if started sufficiently early should make sure that many vulnerable patients are well aware of the dates. Posters in the surgery are well and good but increasingly the practice website is the place where patients will look first. Other low-cost publicity includes publicising on reception screens, and sending an email reminder.

Lastly, dedicated flu clinics will cover most of the patients but they should not be a patient’s only option. Once the flu clinics have been held, the practice can set up alerts to flash up every time a doctor is seeing a patient who still needs a flu jab, to continue to maximise income.

Bob Senior is chair of the Association of Independent Specialist Medical Accountants and head of medical services at Baker Tilly.