Opted-out PCNs urged to resume COVID-19 jabs as GPs step up booster campaign

PCNs opted out of the COVID-19 booster campaign have been urged to 'reconsider' as NHS England urged GP-led sites to step up vaccination rates to match or exceed their 'best day' in earlier phases.

Operational guidance from NHS England calls on PCNs that opted out of delivering booster jabs to JCVI cohorts 10-12 to 'please urgently reconsider your participation'.

The guidance highlights temporary changes to the GP contract intended to free up time for practices to deliver COVID-19 vaccinations - and urges practices that have opted out to 'advise your local commissioner if anything further could be done to support you to remain in this programme'.

NHS England also urges practices that are not participating in the COVID-19 vaccination programme to 'urgently support their local vaccination efforts' - urging them to 'liaise with their local commissioner to discuss signing up to the [enhanced service] or offering workforce to their vaccination site'.

COVID-19 booster

At sites delivering COVID-19 vaccinations, the advice says capacity should be increased 'to the same level or above your best day in phases 1 and 2' - while PCNs are 'strongly encouraged' to open seven days per week, and to open from 8am to 8pm.

The operational guidance comes after NHS England wrote to GPs warning that all practices should clinically prioritise work with a view to redeploying staff to support the accelerated COVID-19 vaccination drive. Routine and non-urgent appointments could be paused until early in the new year.

Health and social care secretary Sajid Javid warned earlier this week that the NHS faces a 'tidal wave' of COVID-19 cases amid evidence that Omicron is spreading rapidly.

On 14 December the NHS reported 59,610 confirmed COVID-19 cases - the highest daily figure recorded since early January - and the UK Health Security Agency estimates that the true daily figure is around 200,000 infections.

GPs under pressure

GP practices are already under intense pressure as they pivot to focus on the ramped up COVID-19 booster drive, with more than 30m appointments in October alone. The GMC's State of Medical Education and Practice report for 2021 found that one in three GPs are at high risk of burnout, and that more than half are struggling with heavy workload.

NHS England has said that further guidance on clinical prioritisation will come 'shortly', to be drawn up by its officials along with theRCGP and BMA.

The operational guidance adds that the health service is working with government to 'identify additional areas where we can flex medical certification requirements to release capacity within general practice'.

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