The community pharmacy sector has welcomed NHS England (NHSE’s) decision to allow community pharmacies to proceed with flu vaccination appointments that are already booked for September.

But organisations across the sector have expressed differing thoughts about what the next steps for the programme should be.

The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) has continued to urge NHS England (NHSE) to rethink its decision to begin the flu vaccination season in October.

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) has called for more detail on the process.

Meanwhile, the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) has said that patients need clarity on when appointments will be available.

This week NHSE confirmed that it would be changing the start date of the flu vaccination season from its usual 1 September to October, following advice earlier in the week from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

Community pharmacy leaders spoke out against the delay to the service when it was mooted late last week, with contractors telling The Pharmacist that they had already ordered stock, booked temporary staff and contacted patients.

NHSE then announced that flu vaccination providers would be able to claim payment for eligible patients vaccinated in September where ‘firm commitments and appointments have already been made’.

Jay Badenhorst, vice-chair of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), told The Pharmacist that while allowing pharmacies to proceed with already-booked appointments ‘resolves some issues for some pharmacies’, the situation was still ‘very messy for most contractors’ and would ‘leave many patients waiting longer to get protected against flu.’

He added: ‘Even now the best scenario would be for NHS England to announce a rethink and go for a September start.’

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, AIMp chief executive, previously told The Pharmacist that the roll out of the Covid-19 and flu vaccination programmes was ‘utterly shambolic’, amid a reduction in service fee and the proposed delay.

And she said that the ‘last minute’ change was ‘total disrespect to the already overstretched pharmacy teams who need time to plan’.

‘If they’ve discovered that it’s better to co administer the flu and Covid vaccines at the same time then they should communicate that earlier, not at the last hour,’ she added.

Following NHSE’s announcement that pharmacies would be able to submit payment claims for already booked flu vaccinations delivered in September, Dr Hannbeck told The Pharmacist that while it was ‘good to see that NHSE have offered some flexibility around the flu vaccination in September’, the decision did ‘not go far enough’.

She also said that the communication to vaccination providers was ‘short of info regarding how the process will be carried out and followed’.

Dr Nick Thayer, head of policy at the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA), said that ‘it was imperative for patients who had already booked appointments, and the sector, to have the clarity needed to plan. A decision was needed quickly, and we now have that.’

He added: ‘Ensuring high uptake is critical to protecting patients, especially in the face of winter pressures. We now need to work together with NHSE to ensure that patients are clear on the availability of flu vaccinations.’

And Alastair Buxton, director of NHS Services at Community Pharmacy England (CPE), said that while the negotiator would have preferred a full launch of the service in September, it was ‘delighted and relieved that Ministers and the NHS have responded to our calls for common sense to prevail and agreed that pharmacies who have planned vaccinations in September will be able to go ahead with those.’

Co-administer flu and Covid-19 vaccines

In a letter to vaccination providers, NHSE urged flu vaccination providers to co-administer the flu and Covid-19 vaccine, and to identify opportunities to maximise this offer to patients.

The commissioner said that ‘the approach being taken to timing and co-administration maximises clinical protection, and therefore the resilience of health and care services, over the later winter months when flu and Covid-19 are most likely to be prevalent.

‘By supporting greater levels of co-administration of vaccines we also collectively have an opportunity to achieve greater efficiency in delivery for providers at what we know is already a busy time of year.’