Community pharmacies in England could be given additional Covid booster vaccine appointments redirected from general practice, NHS England (NHSE) has said.

This comes as the NHSE today (14 October) published a plan for improving access to GP appointments for patients and to support GPs and their teams ahead of winter.

If practices taking part in the booster programme — ‘phase three’ — are providing an ‘inappropriately low’ number of face-to-face appointments for patients, Covid vaccine appointments should be passed on ‘most likely through community pharmacy’, NHSE said in the document.

‘Participation by a practice in the Covid-19 vaccination programme can never be at the expense of providing reasonable patient access to core GP services,’ NHSE commented.

NHSE has not yet published a target number of face-to-face appointments for GPs to meet.

However, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the health secretary Sajid Javid said he did not have a specific target for the percentage of appointments a practice must deliver face-to-face, saying his ‘only target is choice — I want patients to feel they have a choice’.

Prior to the pandemic, just over 80% (81%) of consultations in England were conducted in person, but this fell to almost half that number (54%) during the third national lockdown, according to NHS Digital.

The latest figures showed face-to-face appointments have only since increased by 4% (to 58%) since restrictions have ended.

Earlier this year, NHSE said that community pharmacies would be expected to deliver 3.5 million vaccines per week over the booster period.

Eligible groups include everyone over 50 and people with underlying health conditions that make them vulnerable to Covid. It also includes adult household contacts of immunosuppressed individuals.

In July, pharmacy sites that could administer 100 Covid vaccines per week were called forward to submit expressions of interest to deliver the booster.

As of July, 688 pharmacies across England had been commissioned to administer the Covid vaccine.

The Pharmacist has asked NHSE how many additional sites have been commissioned to deliver phase three of the rollout.