Community pharmacies will get additional payments to deliver Covid vaccinations in September and October as the government brings forward the autumn programme in light of a new Covid variant.

But the sector’s negotiator has criticised the government’s ‘shambolic start’ to the vaccination programme, which it said has a ‘seemingly endlessly changing timetable’ that leaves community pharmacies with little time to prepare.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has allocated additional funding to ‘acceleration payments’, which will be paid to providers for every eligible person they vaccinate before a certain deadline.

In addition to the £7.54 vaccination fee and the £10 for delivering vaccinations to housebound patients, providers will also receive an additional acceleration payment of £10 for each Covid vaccination administered to care home residents between Monday 11 September and Sunday 22 October 2023 inclusive, a letter sent to providers today outlined.

And if vaccination providers can complete vaccinations within an entire care home by 23.59 on Sunday 22 October 2023, and submit a live time survey to the commissioner by 23.59 on Sunday 29 October 2023, they will receive an additional one-off payment of £200 for each completed care home.

For all other eligible people vaccinated against Covid between 11 September and 31 October 2023, pharmacies will receive an acceleration payment of £5, in addition to the £7.54 Covid vaccination fee.

But this £5 payment will not apply to care home residents, housebound people, and any health and care worker vaccinations commissioned under the NHS Standard Contract.

Alastair Buxton, director of NHS Services at Community Pharmacy England (CPE) welcomed the acceleration payments which he said would ‘make it more financially viable for some pharmacy owners to take part’.

And he said that the negotiating body understood and support the clinical rationale for the accelerated booster campaign.

But he called the government’s roll-out of the campaign, which saw the expected start date for flu vaccinations change from September to October in line with Covid vaccinations, which have now been changed to September, ‘shambolic’.

‘It simply isn’t efficient for pharmacies or other providers to work to a seemingly endlessly changing timetable,’ he said.

He said that the increase in fees – following a cut to the expected Covid vaccination payment – might mean that more community pharmacies would be able to provide the autumn boosters.

To facilitate this, NHS England (NSHE) has extended the deadline for pharmacies to submit their expression of interest in providing the service until 17:00 on 4 September 2023, with commissioners also able to accept applications after this date at their discretion and in line with guidance.

But Mr Buxton said that this still meant that time was ‘incredibly tight for pharmacy teams to prepare for the start of the season.’

He added: ‘Community pharmacies stood ready to support the emergency Covid vaccination programmes during the pandemic and many pharmacies still wish to do so, so long as it makes economic sense, and so long as they can plan properly for it.

‘Pharmacies will once again show their adaptability and do their utmost to help with this newly accelerated campaign, but the policy to-ing and fro-ing that we have seen this year must not be repeated.’

The vaccination start date has been changed as a ‘precautionary measure’ following the discovery of a new Covid variant, described by NHSE as ‘the most concerning new variant since Omicron first emerged.’

The variant, BA.2.86 was first detected in the UK on Friday 18 August and is currently being examined by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).