Community Pharmacy England calls on Ministers to prevent delay to flu vac start date

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Community Pharmacy England is calling for a reversal of the decision to allow a delay to the commencement of the Flu Vaccination Service until after 1st September, warning Ministers that the timely vaccination of around one million people is at stake.

In a letter to Pharmacy Minister Neil O’Brien and Vaccines Minister Maria Caulfield, we have requested their urgent intervention to prevent hundreds of thousands of patients being denied the chance to be vaccinated in September, administrative chaos for pharmacies as they are forced to try to re-book appointments into a shorter time span, and a further worsening of the financial and operational pressures on pharmacies. This follows NHS England’s publication of the service specification for the 2023/24 Community Pharmacy Seasonal Influenza Vaccination Advanced Service, which includes new wording giving the commissioner the power to set a delayed start date for the service.

We had already been objecting to this in the strongest possible terms. Pharmacy owners have already ordered their vaccines and opened booking systems to include the provision of flu vaccines in September, based on the approach taken for the last seven years and supported by previous NHS messaging to the public to get vaccinated as soon as possible in the autumn. Our Committee provided data to support our arguments that the service must start as usual on 1st September, but this was rejected in the NHS announcement on Friday.

There is now a very real risk that pharmacy owners and their teams will be unable to manage their workload this winter or recoup the investment they have made sourcing vaccines in good faith. This is a completely unacceptable – and entirely avoidable – situation for a commissioner to put pharmacies, or indeed any service providers, in.

We are continuing to fight to change the decision taken by NHS England, calling for the pharmacy flu vaccination service to begin on the long-established 1st September start date, in what our letter says would be a ‘victory for common sense’. The Government and NHS England should not action any advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) about starting flu vaccination later than 1st September because of the overriding concern about the lack of prior notice given to providers. The timing of any such policy change should instead be considered for the 2024/25 season, with service providers being given adequate time to plan the logistics accordingly.

Support our call

We will continue to seek to influence the NHS decision over the next few weeks. As well as the letter to Ministers, we are briefing Parliamentarians and asking LPCs to take action at a local level.

You can help us to draw more attention to the numerous implications of this issue by contacting your local MP. We have prepared the following briefing, which is based on our letter to Ministers and outlines the consequences if the delay goes ahead.  The accompanying template email can be used when sending the briefing to your MP.

Urgent MP Briefing: NHS Flu Vaccinations

Template email to MP: Urgent support needed on NHS flu vaccinations

Alastair Buxton, Director of NHS Services at Community Pharmacy England, said:

“Changing the start date of a service is a substantial amendment that needs careful consideration and plenty of notice given to both service providers and users – neither of which NHS England did, despite the evidence that we have provided to them on this issue.

“Unfortunately, pharmacy owners are used to delays in the publication of the service specification and Directions for the Flu Vaccination Service, but they don’t usually come with such a fundamental change to how the service operates. Making an announcement just four weeks before the usual 1st September start is completely irresponsible and once again pharmacy teams will be left to face the wrath of the public through no fault of their own.

“We have begun a concerted campaign to get policymakers to see reason and urgently reverse this decision for the benefit of pharmacies, patients, and their own reputations. Please do what you can to help us increase the volume of noise they hear on this important issue.”

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