Flu vac: NHSE publishes 2024/25 service spec

Following discussions with Community Pharmacy England, NHS England has published the service specification for the 2024/25 Community Pharmacy Seasonal Influenza Vaccination Advanced Service.

This early publication aims to support the planning and provision of the service by pharmacy owners and will assist any service providers should an autumn COVID-19 vaccination service be considered, as any pharmacy owners seeking to provide COVID-19 vaccinations must also provide the Flu Vaccination Service.

Changes to the service requirements

Only a small number of amendments have been made to the service specification ahead of the next season.

The key changes are that the commencement date for the service will be announced by NHS England along with the priority order for the administration of vaccinations.

Based on evidence that flu vaccine’s effectiveness can wane over time in adults, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advised moving the start of the programme for most adults to the beginning of October. This is on the understanding, that the majority of the vaccinations will be completed by the end of November, closer to the time that the flu season commonly starts.

As a result, the annual flu letter confirmed, from 1st September 2024, pharmacies will only be able to vaccinate pregnant women, as they are the exception to the advice. From October 2024, vaccination of the other adult cohorts will commence, with the exact starting date to be confirmed by NHS England in due course.

Following the service commencement date, the specification notes that pharmacy owners should maximise administration of vaccine by 30th November 2024.

As advised, following the announcement of the annual flu letter, pharmacy owners and vaccine suppliers will want to consider these changes before vaccine orders for the 2024/25 season are finalised and order schedules are confirmed.

PGD and National Protocol

As is the case in the 2023/24 service, the patient group direction (PGD) will be able to be used by an appropriately trained practitioner to provide the Advanced service. This will therefore, allow pharmacy owners to use other healthcare professions listed in the PGD (e.g. nurses) to provide the service under the supervision of a pharmacist.

A National Protocol will also be available, which can be used by pharmacy owners as an alternative to the PGD, where they are able to continue to make use of the skill mix flexibilities allowed by the protocol. Clinical supervision of the service will still need to be provided by a pharmacist.

The PGD and national protocol are expected to be published closer to the commencement date for the service once JCVI guidance has been considered.

Funding

For the 2024/25 season, the service fee will remain unchanged at £9.58, with the cost of the vaccine (and an allowance for VAT on the cost of the medicine) also being paid.

Community Pharmacy England put forward strong arguments for an increase in funding for the service to reflect the inflationary cost pressures pharmacy owners have suffered in recent years and to recognise the predictable increases in costs which will apply in the year ahead, in particular the increase in the national minimum wage. NHS England rejected our arguments for a funding increase.

Community Pharmacy England view

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

“Following our joint call with other representative bodies and organisations, back in October 2023, to press for improved planning ahead of the 2024/25 winter vaccination season, the early publication of the flu service specifications is a welcome development.

“This will allow more time for planning the implementation of the service and hopefully avoids the policy to-ing and fro-ing that the sector has experienced in recent years. Pharmacy owners must make sure they consider the changes to the timing of the service in their forward planning and vaccine procurement.

“We argued for an increased service fee to reflect the rising costs, including the national minimum wage, that pharmacy owners are facing. Robust evidence was presented on inflationary cost increases, so it is very disappointing that NHS England has once again not recognised these when setting the fee.

“We will continue to push the case with NHS England for increased funding for the service.”

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