GP practices may have to run seasonal flu and COVID-19 vaccine campaigns in tandem during the pandemic if a coronavirus vaccine becomes available in time, the guidance adds.
The guidance, designed to help GP practices prepare to deliver mass vaccination programmes over the coming months against the complex backdrop of an ongoing pandemic, states that flu jabs could take up to six minutes to complete instead of the normal one to three minutes.
Social distancing, use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and increased time for clinicians to prepare for each patient are the primary reasons behind the rise.
It also warns that practices may need larger spaces to vaccinate patients to maintain safe social distancing amid enhanced standards of infection prevention and control.
The guidance comes a week after GPs warned of a potential workload crisis as the government prepares to roll out the 'biggest flu programme in history'.
After assessing the impact of COVID-19 on this year's flu programme, college leaders said: ‘In the context of social distancing, use of PPE and increased time necessary for immunisers to prepare for each patient, it is likely that additional time will be required.
‘In these altered circumstances, we estimate that the actual vaccination process may take at least four minutes, and potentially five to six minutes depending on the PPE requirements. This is in comparison with a normal GP throughput of between 1-3 minutes per seasonal flu vaccination.
‘Unless the number of vaccinators is also increased, this will have significant implications for the time taken to vaccinate a population.’
Increased flu campaign
The guidance also acknowledges reported plans to increase cohorts eligible for flu vaccination to include patients aged 50 or over, or an additional 12m people.
‘Any large-scale vaccination programme will need to be delivered by a workforce which is facing additional demand due to the longer-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, and which may have reduced capacity, due to the need to protect vulnerable staff from frontline work and for potentially infected staff to self-isolate,’ the college said.
‘These factors, taken together, suggest that services and facilities may need to be altered or enhanced to ensure that vaccination programmes are successful.'
The college also suggested that it would be ‘more efficient and cost effective’ to provide immunisation across a number of providers, suggesting GP federations or primary care networks (PCNs) could jointly immunise neighbourhoods.
Primary care networks
But it warned that a single clinical lead, such as a PCN clinical director or a GP partner, should be appointed to co-ordinate planning and delivery.
Plans for a major expansion of the flu campaign this winter were confirmed in details of contract changes unveiled earlier this month by NHS England - and health and social care secretary Matt Hancock has now said the campaign will be the 'biggest in history'.
Amid the ongoing uncertainty around this year’s flu campaign, GPs have been coming up with innovative ideas to solve some of the problems presented by social distancing measures.
Newham GP Dr Farzana Hussain plans to run a drive-through flu clinic but has warned practices will need resources, funding and time to deliver results. Bromley GP Dr Mark Essop has argued his award-winning barcoded vaccine clinic model could help to vaccinate patients at speed and in large numbers.