NHSE opens EOI process for autumn C-19 vacs service

NHS England (NHSE) has, today, announced the start of a new expression of interest (EOI) process for pharmacy owners that wish to take part in this autumn’s COVID-19 vaccination service, which is expected to commence in October.

The approach they are taking will mean more pharmacies will be able to choose to participate than has previously been the case.

However, NHSE has decided, despite the counter-arguments that Community Pharmacy England and general practice representatives have put forward, to reduce the fee paid for vaccinations by 25%, to £7.54.

The new EOI process

NHSE has published the draft Enhanced services specification for the autumn service and comprehensive guidance on the EOI process:

Draft COVID-19 autumn vaccination Enhanced service specification and guidance on the Community Pharmacy Expression of Interest Process

Any pharmacy owners interested in submitting an expression of interest should start by reviewing the content of both these documents.

The EOI process opens today (4th August 2023) on the Health-Family Portal and the deadline for submissions is 5pm on 29th August 2023.

Provision of the service at the pharmacy

Pharmacy owners who wish to participate in the service at their pharmacy can opt-in to the service, subject to meeting the minimum requirements. These are detailed in the NHSE guidance document, but the following summarises the key points. Pharmacy owners:

  • Need to read the Enhanced service specification and be confident that they will be able to meet its requirements
  • Must also provide the Flu Vaccination Advanced Service from September 2023 to 31st March 2024
  • Must be able to offer at least 100 COVID-19 vaccinations per week
  • Be ‘in good standing’ from a regulatory perspective with the NHS and other organisations such as the General Pharmaceutical Council

Pharmacy owners who submit an EOI for a site at their pharmacy will not be required to administer all vaccinations from the pharmacy; they must also vaccinate eligible housebound/care home patients if requested by NHSE and they may also provide outreach services if agreed with NHSE.

This new EOI process marks a significant change from the approach used by NHSE in previous EOI processes. Previously, EOIs from pharmacies were only granted if there was a population need for a new provider to offer the service, e.g. if there was a perceived gap in COVID-19 vaccination provision in the services being offered by other vaccination providers or if there was a need for additional capacity. That requirement is removed from the new EOI process for pharmacies wishing to provide the service on the pharmacy premises (but not for those that want to provide the service solely at an off-site location, away from the pharmacy premises).

Additionally, the new EOI process is being hosted on a new platform, which NHSE expect will provide a much improved experience for users.

Provision of the service away from the pharmacy

Pharmacy owners can also express an interest in providing the service from a location away from their pharmacy. However, NHSE will usually only approve requests to operate services in the vicinity of the pharmacy where there is a population need, for example within the same Integrated Care System. These decisions will be taken once the provisional network of pharmacies wanting to vaccinate patients on their premises, primary care network sites and other providers (such as NHS Trusts) has been identified.

These expressions of interest must also meet the minimum requirements set out in the NHSE guidance. The process NHSE will follow in determining whether these off the pharmacy premises applications will be approved is described in the NHSE guidance.

Funding for the service

NHSE has decided to reduce the fee paid for COVID-19 vaccinations by 25%, to £7.54.  Alongside that fee, pharmacy owners that vaccinate a housebound patient in their home will be able to claim an additional £10 fee. There will be no incentive for vaccination of patients living in care homes, as has previously been the case.

In discussions on this proposal, NHSE stated they were reducing the fee as pharmacy owners would have an increased opportunity to co-administer COVID-19 and flu vaccinations. Additionally, the savings on the fee would allow continued investment in local commissioning by its regional teams to support outreach work and a more targeted approach in less well served communities, as a way to increase vaccination rates.

This decision was made despite the counter-arguments that we and general practice representatives put to NHSE on the increased complexity of the COVID-19 vaccination process and related administration workload compared to other vaccinations.

Community Pharmacy England view

Commenting on the NHSE announcement, Alastair Buxton, Director of NHS Services, at Community Pharmacy England said:

“The decision by NHS England to reduce the COVID-19 vaccination fee defies logic. We cannot understand how they came to reach this decision and we know GP leaders feel the same: we both resisted it strongly. It is incredibly frustrating and will inevitably make pharmacy owners think twice about whether the service can be provided in an economically viable way.

“This announcement is also much later than was originally planned by NHS England and comes at a time when many pharmacy owners will be taking a well earned break from their business. We have been pushing NHSE to publish the documents for a great many weeks and earlier this week we wrote to the Minister to raise our concerns with DHSC about the ongoing delay, warning him that the delay to the announcement has an adverse consequence for pharmacy owners and their teams, who need time to prepare ahead of the commencement of the service.

“For some pharmacy owners, the announcement will still bring an opportunity. The new approach to commissioning the COVID-19 vaccination programme being akin to an Advanced service, which all pharmacy owners can opt in to provide on their premises, has been a long time coming for the sector and patients. It may be welcome news for all those businesses that have been frustrated at previous NHS decisions not to include them in the COVID-19 vaccination programme.”

Further information on the service

Further information on the service, guidance and resources can be found via our COVID-19 Vaccination Hub page.