The British Medical Association (BMA) has slammed the lack of “conclusive evidence” to support the recommissioning of the flu vaccine through community pharmacy.
The trade union has called for a full review of the scheme in the coming winter and says that if there is not an increase in uptake the service should be taken away from pharmacists.
NHS England has announced that community pharmacists will once again administer the jabs after nearly a quarter of a million more people benefitted from vaccinations in a community pharmacy setting during the winter of 2015/16.
A total of 10,407,913 seasonal flu vaccinations were delivered, including 240,259 additional patients who chose to receive vaccinations in a community pharmacy compared to the previous year.
The number of the most vulnerable patients receiving flu vaccination – those in an ‘at risk’ category and pregnant women – also increased, despite the mild winter.
A spokesperson for the BMA said: “The vaccination process is important and it is vital that it is delivered in the most effective way.
“The BMA does have concerns that at present there is still not conclusive evidence that this particular scheme has demonstrated a significant increase in overall uptake over the last flu season.
“The current decision to recommission is therefore one that many GPs will be surprised at.
“There must now be a serious commitment to a full review of the project during its second year and if it fails to be shown that it has increased total uptake it should not be recommissioned next year.”
Meanwhile Sandra Gidley, chair of the English Pharmacy Board, hailed the commissioning decision as “great news for patients”.
“Flu vaccinations are a great example of how pharmacists can help ease overstretched GP surgeries.
“Close and effective collaboration with our GP colleagues should help make this year even more successful in terms of delivery.
“One of the English Board’s aspirations is to ‘make every pharmacy a public health centre’, promoting national commissioning for this and other services deliverable by pharmacists and the pharmacy team,” she said.
The terms and fees for the recommissioned service will remain the same as in the 2015/16 and the early announcement this year should support pharmacies in managing and ordering vaccine stocks.
Keith Ridge, chief pharmaceutical officer, said: “Our flu vaccination service made it possible for nearly a quarter of a million more people last year to receive a vaccination in their local community pharmacy of choice.
“We are pleased to confirm that we will continue to offer this more convenient option to the public during the year ahead.”