The BMA is in discussions with NHS England about GPs using ‘sites other than practices’ to administer flu vaccinations this winter.
Similar negotiations between NHS England and pharmacists are also underway about whether it would be possible to vaccinate patients against flu in marquees, town halls, community centres, car parks – via drive through services – sports stadiums and other venues.
The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee has drawn up early guidance for the 2020/21 flu season about the options it is discussing with health officials to ‘highlight the potential scenarios being discussed that may provide additional opportunities to provide the community pharmacy flu vaccination service in other environments’.
Some GPs have already been devising new ways of providing other types of vaccines to minimise face-to-face contact during the Covid-19 pandemic, such as using drive-through ‘clinics’ in their car parks for child immunisations. But this has not been at a national level or involved NHS England input, which is now being discussed.
It comes as health secretary Matt Hancock has said that this year will bring the ‘biggest flu vaccination programme in history’, requiring a joint effort between GPs and pharmacies.
The Department of Health and Social Care has yet to officially confirm the expansion of the programme and which extra groups of patients would require vaccination – but there have been calls for all patients aged over 50 to receive the jab.
The talks take place against a backdrop of concerns raised by Government officials about how social distancing, staff absences and potential school closures could affect the programme.
The BMA has said there will be ‘many practical challenges’ facing practices this year as they deliver the flu programme.
If a wider group of patients become eligible for vaccination, the move must be accompanied by an increased supply of vaccines and extra support for practices to deliver the programme, plus PPE, said the BMA.
BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey told Pulse: ‘We are talking to NHS England and Improvement about all the implications of the forthcoming flu campaign, including the potential for using other sites other than practices should that be necessary.
‘This year it is more important than ever that practices are given the details they need to plan for this as soon possible.
‘We are talking to NHSEI about the many practical challenges practices will have to overcome this year in order to be able to deliver a successful flu programme.’
He added: ‘Extending the group eligible for vaccinations needs to be evidence-based, and if it is widened, it must be backed up by an increased supply of vaccines quickly – and practices will need support in delivering the programme if numbers go up significantly.’
Dr Vautrey also said it was crucial for adequate supplies of vaccines to reach practices in ‘good time – something which has not always happened in the past’.
East London GP Sir Sam Everington, a former NHS England advisor, said he has some reservations about GPs potentially providing vaccines at sites other than practices.
He said: ‘It would be more sensible to provide each practice with a simple gazebo to do it in the car park or in front of the practice. Protection from rain will be the key issue – then marked two-metre tape on the pavement with clear times for patients to turn up.
‘That way PPE, anaphylaxis kits, computers etc are all very close by and it’s walking distance for more patients, the location is familiar to patients, and there would be fewer patients in the queue than at a larger site.’
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: ‘We are currently working with Public Health England and NHS England and Improvement on the delivery of the expanded flu vaccination programme. We will be publishing details soon so that local areas can plan in advance of the flu season.’
Last month manufacturers said they may not be able to provide flu vaccines being ordered for this winter, following an ‘unprecedented’ surge in demand worldwide.
GPs warned even without a major expansion of the vaccination programme, many practices do not have enough supplies now to meet the additional demand from more existing eligible patients coming forward as a result of Covid-19 pandemic creating more awareness.