NHS England (NHSE) has this afternoon published the service specification for the 2023/24 Covid vaccination programme, which includes a reduction in fee of 25%.

Community pharmacies will now be paid £7.54 for every Covid vaccination that they provide, as well as an additional £10 fee when delivering vaccinations to housebound patients.

There will be no additional fee for vaccinating patients in care homes.

Community Pharmacy England (CPE) said the fee reduction came ‘despite the counter-arguments’ put forward by themselves and general practice representatives.

But it said that NHSE had chosen to reduce the fee because providers would be able to provide Covid and flu vaccinations at the same time.

NHSE also stated that the savings on the fee paid to providers would allow continued investment in outreach work and a more targeted approach in less well served communities, in order to increase vaccination rates, according to CPE.

Alastair Buxton, Director of NHS Services, said that the decision by NHSE to reduce the fee ‘defies logic’.

‘It is incredibly frustrating and will inevitably make pharmacy owners think twice about whether the service can be provided in an economically viable way,’ he said.

He added that the announcement comes ‘much later than was originally planned by NHS England’ and ‘at a time when many pharmacy owners will be taking a well-earned break from their business’.

‘We have been pushing NHSE to publish the documents for a great many weeks and earlier this week we wrote to the minister to raise our concerns with DHSC about the ongoing delay, warning him that the delay to the announcement has an adverse consequence for pharmacy owners and their teams, who need time to prepare ahead of the commencement of the service,’ he said.

New expressions of interest process ‘will mean more pharmacies can choose to participate’

But Mr Buxton said that ‘for some pharmacy owners, the announcement will still bring an opportunity’.

NHSE has introduced a new expressions of interest process allowing all pharmacies to opt-in to providing the service on their premises.

The new simpler process removes the requirement for there to be a gap in local provision in order for pharmacies to be able to provide the service on their premises.

Mr Buxton said that the approach ‘has been a long time coming for the sector and patients’.

‘It may be welcome news for all those businesses that have been frustrated at previous NHS decisions not to include them in the Covid-19 vaccination programme,’ he said.

To be eligible to provide the service, pharmacies must also be providing the flu vaccination advanced service from September 2023 to 31st March 2024, be able to offer at least 100 Covid vaccinations per week and be ‘in good standing’ from a regulatory perspective.

If they do provide the service from their pharmacy premises, they must also vaccinate eligible housebound and care home patients if requested by NHSE. They may also provide outreach services if this is agreed with NHSE.

If pharmacy owners want to provide the Covid vaccination service at a location away from their pharmacy, they may also express an interest in this.

But CPE said that this is only likely to be approved by NHSE if there is a population need nearby – for example, within the same integrated care system (ICS) as the pharmacy.

Applications for off-site provision will be reviewed after NHSE has identified a network of vaccination sites in existing healthcare premises such as pharmacies and primary care network (PCN) sites.