GPs face financial challenge as COVID-19 vaccine programme expands

GP practices face a financial challenge as the COVID-19 vaccine programme expands in the coming months because they will have to foot the bill for extra staff, the RCGP and BMA have warned.

Vaccinations are expected to slow this week before accelerating in the week beginning 15 March as second-dose vaccinations become due for millions of people who received a first dose in late December or early January.

More than 1m people have already received both doses of vaccine - but local vaccination sites face a huge challenge as they ramp up second doses alongside continuing to work through first-dose jabs for priority cohorts identified by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

NHS England has suggested that vaccine supply could hit record levels midway through this month.

GP funding

Joint guidance from the BMA and RCGP on preparing a workforce to deliver the vaccination campaign confirms: 'We expect the vaccine programme to continue to expand as more supplies of vaccines become available.

'Practices and PCN groupings can and should secure additional vaccination workforce staff where this is likely to be required. Securing staff can be a complicated process, and while forward planning may be a challenge given the short timescales for vaccine delivery, any steps that can be taken in advance will ease this process.'

The advice warns that although some income comes to practices from the vaccination campaign 'practices may need to fund the majority of additional staff'. The advice warns: 'Resourcing the vaccination programme may therefore be a challenge.'

The warning over the financial impact for practices of delivering the campaign comes after GPonline reported that practices faced cashflow problems because of missed payments related to the first wave of vaccinations.

COVID-19 vaccine programme

NHS England has promised to correct the missed payments in the March pay round for practices - after a warning from the BMA that general practice could not be expected to deliver the vaccination campaign 'on goodwill' alone.

The joint BMA/RCGP advice reminds practices that a £150m GP COVID-19 capacity fund has been released to CCGs - funding that 'can be appropriately drawn down to expand staff capacity'.

The guidance offers advice on workload prioritisation, recruitment and use of staff from the additional roles reimbursement scheme, staff training and access to vaccines for different groups.

Meanwhile, an update to the standard operating procedure (SOP) for sites delivering COVID-19 vaccination urges practices to consider how to build in flexibility to allow their workforce to respond to surges in vaccine supply that may require large numbers of staff to administer it.

The SOP says: 'Providers should consider the medium-term capacity implications of releasing staff to deliver the vaccination programme. Vaccine supply will vary from week to week and sites should ensure there is flexibility in workforce plans to enable teams to quickly be stood down in quieter periods and stood back up when required.'

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