In a letter to GP practices and vaccination sites that recognises general practice is currently 'busier than ever before', NHS England said it was vital to deliver second-dose COVID-19 vaccinations in line with 'accelerated' guidance.
NHS England told vaccination sites to bring forward second doses for patients aged over 50 and those in at-risk groups to eight weeks after their first jab in line with updated advice from the JCVI.
To ensure this goes ahead, officials have unveiled a £20m support fund to allow local sites to increase capacity - and have warned commissioners to 'minimise any burden associated with locally commissioned services'.
The letter says: 'It is vital over the coming weeks that we continue to deliver second doses for cohorts 1-9 in line with the accelerated JCVI guidance, and first doses for remaining adult cohorts as quickly as supply allows so as to mitigate the risks of variants.
'We recognise that many primary care staff have faced a long and challenging year, and that additional capacity is key to support providers to deliver the COVID-19 vaccinations alongside core primary care services and recovery.'
The letter says integrated care systems (ICSs) or strategic health partnerships (STPs) regionally will have access to £20m 'to support primary care providers to draw down additional staff through their lead employer to help deliver the COVID-19 vaccination programme between 16 June and 14 July 2021'.
It makes clear the funding is strictly limited to paying for additional staff: 'This will bring in extra workforce to support the recovery of NHS services and another busy and crucial period for the COVID-19 vaccination deployment programme. This funding is ringfenced to provide additional workforce capacity to local vaccination services and cannot be used for other purposes.'
NHS officials also called in the letter for CCGs and ICSs to 'offer all possible support to primary care to bring forward second dose appointments in line with JCVI guidance'.
The letter recognises the 'significant time' involved in rescheduling appointments for second jabs and urges CCGs and ICSs to consider redeploying their administrative staff to support local vaccination sites to carry out this work.
It also makes clear that CCGs should look to reduce demands placed on GP practices through locally commissioned services. It says: 'We are asking CCGs to seek to minimise any burden associated with
locally commissioned services at this time where these do not support COVID-19 vaccination, COVID-19 related activities or recovery activities.'
GPonline revealed earlier this month that clinical administrative work and GP consultations in general practice had surged beyond levels seen before the pandemic. A report from MPs has also highlighted the impact of 'chronic excessive workload' on NHS staff and called for a complete overhaul of workforce planning.