Covid-19: GPs are asked to opt into next vaccination phase this autumnBMJ 2022; 378 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.o1657 (Published 05 July 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;378:o1657
General practices that wish to continue giving covid booster vaccinations from September have until 14 July to sign up, NHS England has said.
In guidance setting out expectations for the autumn booster campaign it also states that general practices choosing to provide vaccinations must have sufficient workforce capacity to keep delivering other services.1
The updated enhanced service—now “phase 5” of the vaccination campaign—will start on 1 September and will initially run to 31 March 2023, but it could be extended by as much as six months depending on advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. GPs will continue to be paid £10.06 for each vaccine administered and £10 for each housebound patient.
A letter from NHS England to community vaccination services noted that most specifications were the same as those set out in previous enhanced services but that, “recognising current pressures on general practitioners and pharmacy contractors,” those signing up must ensure that delivering vaccines would not affect their other services. They must also agree with their commissioner their role in a surge response if a rapid increase in capacity became necessary, either in the number of vaccines or the speed of delivery, it said.
Funding to support access to vaccination and to tackle variation and health inequalities in uptake will be devolved to new integrated care systems that will build on the “learning and successes of the earlier phases,” the letter added.
Delivery at scale
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has recommended that covid boosters are given this autumn to care home residents and staff, frontline health and social care workers, people over 65, and those aged 16 to 64 who are in a clinical risk group.2 Last month the NHS set out its intentions for the next stage of covid vaccination, stating that covid, flu, and pneumococcal vaccines should be promoted and given together wherever possible, especially where this might improve uptake.
NHS England’s specification states, “GP practices with sufficient workforce capacity so as not to impact the delivery of essential services and appropriately trained and experienced staff must indicate their willingness to participate in this [enhanced service] before 17:00 on 14 July 2022 unless otherwise agreed by the commissioner.”
Although it is not a requirement, general practices are expected to work in their primary care network grouping to coordinate and deliver the vaccinations at scale, it adds.
Commenting on the release of the guidance, Richard Van Mellaerts, executive officer of the BMA’s England General Practitioners Committee, said, “The autumn and winter phases of the covid-19 vaccination programme will be crucial for helping to protect the NHS against a winter crisis like the last two. GPs and their teams will want to do everything possible to protect their communities, and we encourage those that can to sign up by the 14 July deadline.”
But he added, “At a time when GP shortages are particularly acute, practices now face a delicate balance between delivering booster vaccinations to as many people as possible [and] ensuring that people who need care and treatment from their GP practice continue to receive it. NHS England’s instruction that only those practices with sufficient workforce capacity ‘so as not to impact the delivery of essential services’ should sign up will seem a very difficult criteria to meet for many across the country, especially given the very short sign-up window and increased financial burdens of vaccine storage.
“The renewed push for vaccinations must remind government that, without action on meaningful investment, cutting bureaucracy, inadequate practice buildings, and punitive pensions taxation rules, GPs will be hard pressed to manage both courses of action at once.”
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