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Flu jab delays: Pharmacies face ‘public wrath’ due to ‘irresponsible’ decision


Flu jab delays: Pharmacies face ‘public wrath’ due to ‘irresponsible’ decision

NHS England’s last minute decision to allow the community pharmacy flu vaccination service to be delayed – potentially by a month – will leave pharmacies to “face the wrath of the public,” Community Pharmacy England has warned.

NHSE’s flu vaccination terms of service for 2023-24 were published last Friday, one month before the service is officially slated to launch. However, they include a newly introduced measure that allows the health service to set the commencement date later than September 1 by announcing it through the Primary Care Bulletin. NHSE said it had been advised the start date “is likely to be in October”.

The negotiator says it is fighting this change and has written to both pharmacy minister Neil O’Brien and vaccines minister Maria Caulfield urging them to override NHSE’s decision, which was made without giving service providers sufficient notice. It is also calling on LPCs and contractors to raise the issue locally and contact their political representatives.

Any delays could prevent “hundreds of thousands” of patients from being vaccinated in September  well as causing “administrative chaos” for pharmacies forced to rebook appointments and a worsening of financial and operational pressures, said CPE.

It added: “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.”

CPE services director Alastair Buxton 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.”

National Pharmacy Association chair Nick Kaye called on NHSE to revert to a September 1 start date as a matter of urgency, warning that if the delay goes ahead, “thousands of appointments will have to be cancelled and pre-ordered stock will go to waste”. Temporary staff drafted in for the service will also need to be “stood down,” he added.

Mr Kaye said: “It makes no sense to throw a previously successful NHS scheme into confusion by delaying the start date.”

He also criticised the Government’s decision to freeze flu jab remuneration at £9.58 and slash the Covid-19 vaccination fee by a quarter to £7.54, commenting: “This is highly demotivating for hard pressed pharmacy contractors who have proven themselves to be effective at delivering these important clinical services.”

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