While the flu vaccination service will officially begin in October, pharmacies will still be paid for vaccinating eligible patients who have already booked appointments for September, NHS England (NHSE) has announced.

In a letter to flu vaccination providers, NHSE asked that the adult flu vaccination programme commence from October, confirming what it had earlier told The Pharmacist.

But it added that where ‘firm commitments and appointments have already been made’, community pharmacies will be allowed to submit payment claims for eligible patients given the flu vaccination in September.

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.’

‘Pharmacy owners will be relieved by this news and they and their patients should benefit from the avoided disruption which for many businesses could have been significant.’

This week, pharmacy contractors told The Pharmacist that delaying the flu vaccination season would result in lost income and frustration for patients and staff.

And leaders across the sector had voiced their concerns about any potential delay, with CPE writing to health ministers to urge them to intervene.

NHSE said that the change in timing follows advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) earlier this week.

And it urged flu vaccination providers to co-administer the flu and Covid-19 vaccine, and to identify opportunities to maximise this offer to patients.

NHSE said that this would ‘improve convenience and uptake for communities.’

It added: ‘The approach being taken to timing and coadministration 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.’

And it said that ‘to maximise and extend protection during the winter and through the period of greatest risk in December 2023 and early January 2024’, vaccinations for care home residents and care home staff must begin from 2 October, with vaccinations for other eligible flu and Covid cohorts beginning from 7 October.

And flu and Covid vaccination for all cohorts should be completed by 15 December 2023, the letter said.

The fee for Covid vaccinations has been reduced by 25% this year, with community pharmacies being paid £7.54 for every Covid vaccination that they provide, with NHSE citing time saved by providing Covid and flu vaccinations at the same time as a justification for reducing the fee.

But community pharmacy contractors told The Pharmacist that co-administering the vaccines would only save a ‘very minute’ amount of administrative time, with the clinician still needing to check the appropriateness of each vaccine with the patient.