Delay PCN targets and plan COVID boosters on local flu vaccine model, BMA tells ministers

PCN targets for 2021 should be pushed back to April next year at the earliest - and the COVID booster campaign must be based on the local model GPs use every year for flu jabs, the BMA has warned ministers.

In a meeting with health minister Jo Churchill, BMA GP leaders called for a further delay to four service specifications for PCNs originally due to take effect from April 2021.

Meanwhile, the BMA has warned ministers that the COVID-19 booster campaign set to begin from September must be built on the traditional local GP flu vaccination model - with practices set to be invited soon to sign up to participate in phase three of COVID-19 vaccination.

NHS England and the BMA announced at the start of this year that four PCN specifications would not go ahead from April - and NHS England announced in March this year that they 'will not be introduced to the Network Contract DES until 1 October at the earliest'.

GP contract

However, a BMA update this week confirmed the association is pressing the government for a further delay - calling for the package of new PCN targets not to take effect until 'April 2022 at the earliest'.

The update from BMA GP committee deputy chair Dr Mark Sanford-Wood said the BMA had called for the deadline to be moved back to 'reduce additional workload burden for practices during the autumn and winter when we are likely to be facing a rise in respiratory illness alongside the need to focus on flu/COVID-19 vaccinations and support patients impacted by the ongoing NHS care backlog'.

Dr Sanford-Wood said the BMA had used the meeting to reiterate previous demands made to the government about 'overly-prescriptive management of general practice' by NHS England.

All formal meetings between the BMA's GP committee and NHS England officials are currently suspended after a vote of no confidence in health service leaders in May in the wake of demands that practices offer face-to-face appointments to all patients who want them.

COVID-19 booster campaign

In a second meeting, with vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi, BMA GP leaders warned that the COVID-19 booster campaign must be based 'as much as practically possible on the historically successful annual local delivery of flu vaccination, which is 'business as usual' for practices and pharmacies'.

GP practices have long called for greater freedom to deliver COVID-19 vaccines at practice level - a move that has been supported by MPs.

The BMA update added: 'We discussed the need to support practices and avoid placing additional burdens during a likely very challenging winter. We also called for IT improvements, including using the NHS app to record wider vaccine provision and enable patients to check their vaccine history.'

Calls for the COVID-19 booster campaign to be built around the model practices use for the annual flu campaign come as the government unveiled plans to begin third-dose vaccinations from September in a two-stage process recommended by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

The four delayed PCN service specifications cover anticipatory care; personalised care; tackling neighbourhood inequalities; and cardiovascular disease prevention and diagnosis.

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