In a webinar on Thursday (6 August) NHS England confirmed it was still in discussions with the BMA's GP committee to finalise changes to this year’s flu specification, including how GPs would be reimbursed for extra costs. It said final details would be published 'by the end of August'.
In response to a written question during the webinar, NHS England revealed that it was also in discussions with Public Health England (PHE) about the PPE that staff would be required to use while delivering the campaign.
One viewer asked whether gloves and aprons would need to be changed between each patient vaccinated and an NHS England response said: 'That is the current guidance. We appreciate that practices have concerns about the implications of this and are discussing these with PHE'.
In a separate response NHS England confirmed that current guidance allowed for masks and visors to be worn for a whole session.
NHS England also confirmed that practices could not begin vaccinating people aged 50-64 who are covered by this year's expanded cohort until November and said that guidance for this part of the campaign would not be shared until later.
Additional flu costs
Earlier this week the government and NHS England published an updated flu letter, which set ambitious targets for a minimum 75% uptake for those in at-risk groups and 100% coverage among health and social care workers.
This year's flu campaign is fraught with complications given the social distancing measures and PPE that will be required and the potential increases in the numbers that will come forward for vaccination. The RCGP has estimated each jab could take twice as long as normal to administer this year.
Many practices are having to look at alternative venues to deliver immunisations and it is likely additional staff will be required. Practices usually begin vaccination efforts in September, which means GPs are having to plan flu clinics with no clear idea of what additional costs will be reimbursed.
Deputy director of general practice contracts and strategy at NHS England Katie Cusick, said: ‘We haven't quite concluded negotiations with the GPC on changes to the flu specification, they will need to be published by the end of August. We are finalising those discussions as we speak.
‘There wasn't further detail in the flu letter about some of those contractual changes, including funding, and that's primarily because we haven't yet completed those negotiations.’
Expanded flu campaign
She added that GPs would not be able to jab those in the new 50-64 cohort until November and this would only be introduced when NHS England was confident there was sufficient vaccine supplies.
‘I know some practices have mentioned that they are already getting people over 50 coming in or contacting them to try and get vaccinated. We appreciate that it is difficult, but we do just need to give the message that they're not currently eligible,’ Ms Cusick said.
‘They will be contacted at the point they do become eligible under the scheme and will be invited for vaccination then,’ she added.
NHS England said it would provide ‘a comprehensive flu FAQs document’ for practices shortly. It said this would help practices with planning and offer information on indemnity around different delivery models.
GPonline has previously reported that GPs are looking at alternative methods to deliver this year's campaign amid social distancing rules, including drive-through flu clinics.
A GPonline poll carried out before the expansion to the flu campaign was announced highlighted widespread concern about delivering flu immunisations against the backdrop of COVID-19.
Some 91% of GPs were worried about the additional staff time and workload involved in this year's campaign, with 54% ‘very concerned’ about this issue. An overwhelming 89% said they were worried about how social distancing measures would impact efforts and 81% were concerned about additional running costs.