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UPDATED: Pharmacy flu jab appointments already booked for September 'can go ahead’

NHS England (NHSE) has confirmed that flu vaccination appointments that have already been booked for September will be able to “go ahead”, while all new appointments will take place from October 2. 

The commissioner yesterday (August 10) announced that NHS flu vaccinations will be available to residents of older adult care homes from October 2, with appointments to be made available to all other eligible groups the following week from October 7.

But it said that if patients have “already booked an appointment for their flu vaccination” earlier than these dates, “these appointments can go ahead”.

An NHSE letter sent to healthcare staff yesterday added that while payment for vaccinations would “ordinarily only be made following the service commencement date”, pharmacies can also submit early claims for jabs delivered in September.

Read more: Sector leaders urge ministers to prevent ‘unacceptable’ delayed flu service start

“We understand that some firm commitments and appointments have already been made, so where this is the case and the patient wishes to receive flu vaccination in September, NHSE will permit payment claims to be submitted”, it said.

It comes after community pharmacy leaders this week joined forces to raise concerns about the impact of the delayed flu service, which usually launches on September 1.

They warned that the delayed start would lead to the cancelation of “well over 100,000” vaccine appointments already booked for September.

 

“High-level influencing work”

 

Community Pharmacy England (CPE) welcomed the announcement, saying that its “high-level influencing work” led to the decision to allow pre-booked September appointments to go ahead.  

Alastair Buxton, CPE director of NHS services, yesterday said that the decision to allow pre-booked September appointments was “not quite the outcome we wanted”, as the negotiator “would have preferred a full launch of the service in September" as usual.

But he added that CPE is “delighted and relieved that ministers and the NHS have responded to our calls for common sense to prevail”.

Read more: ‘Deeply frustrating’: CPE slams frozen flu funding amid possible delays to service

“Pharmacy owners will be relieved by this news and they and their patients should benefit from the avoided disruption that for many businesses could have been significant,” he said.

The negotiator this week (August 8) called for an “urgent intervention” to reverse NHSE’s decision to delay the service in a letter sent to pharmacy minister Neil O’Brien and vaccines minister Maria Caulfield.

Other pharmacy leaders joined the CPE’s calls, with the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) warning that the delay would put “intolerable pressure on already stretched” pharmacy teams and calling for urgent “clarity” on the start date.

 

All vaccines to be completed by December 15

 

NHSE cited the “latest scientific evidence” as the reason behind the delayed start to this autumn’s flu programme.

“The flu season typically peaks in January so vaccinating adults in October will mean those at greatest risk will be better protected in the coldest months when viruses circulate more as people gather indoors,” it said.

It added that the NHS has “ensured that there is enough capacity to allow all those eligible for a flu and COVID-19 vaccine to get their vaccines by mid-December, in line with latest guidance”.

Read more: Pharmacies to be paid £17.12 for co-administering COVID and flu jabs

NHSE’s letter added that both flu and COVID-19 vaccinations “for all cohorts should be completed by December 15, 2023”.

Both adult vaccination programmes will begin on the same dates so that patients can get both vaccines in the same visit, while flu vaccines for children will commence in September, NHSE said.

Age cohorts for flu and COVID-19 vaccinations have also been aligned and “will allow for co-administration”, the letter added.

 

Eligible cohorts

 

NHSE set out that the groups eligible for a free NHS flu vaccine next season are:

  • Those aged 65 years and over
  • Those aged six months to under 65 years in clinical risk groups
  • Pregnant women
  • All children aged two or three years on August 31, 2023
  • School-aged children (from reception to year 11)
  • Those in long-stay residential care homes
  • Carers in receipt of carer’s allowance or the main carers of an elderly or disabled person
  • Close contacts of immunocompromised individuals
  • Frontline workers in a social care setting without an employer led occupational health scheme

It added that those eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination in the upcoming autumn programme are:

  • Residents in a care home for older adults
  • All adults aged 65 years and over
  • Those aged six months to 64 years in a clinical risk group
  • Frontline health and social care workers
  • Those aged 12 to 64 years who are household contacts of people with immunosuppression
  • Those aged 16 to 64 years who are carers and staff working in care homes for older adults

All those who turn 65 years by March 31, 2024, are eligible for both vaccinations, the NHSE letter confirmed.

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