An Oxfordshire GP practice has encouraged its patients to get their flu vaccination from them after it lost custom to community pharmacies last year.

Staff at Abingdon Surgery in Abingdon, Oxfordshire texted patients to ‘support’ the surgery by getting their flu jab from them to continue providing a ‘valuable source of income’.

They wrote in a text message: ‘Dear [patient]. We’re now taking bookings for our autumn flu clinics. Seasonal vaccinations provide a valuable source of income for the practice, so please support your surgery.’

Practice manager Flynn Reid said the message was sent in response to the practice losing patients to community pharmacies during the last flu season.

She said yesterday (6 September): ‘A lot of patients don’t think about how GP surgeries are funded and when we explain we’re private businesses that need income to survive, they’re very supportive.’

Until 2015, adults could only get their seasonal flu vaccine in GP practices. As part of the 2015/2016 community pharmacy funding settlement, NHS England agreed that pharmacies could start providing the service for at-risk patients, including the over-65s and pregnant women.


‘Regrettable and unacceptable’ approach


Ade Williams, superintendent pharmacist at Bedminster Pharmacy in Bristol, said that this approach is ‘regrettable’ and ‘unacceptable’ as it implies that pharmacy flu vaccinations are putting general practice ‘at risk’.

He told The Pharmacist today (7 September): ‘GP practices, especially smaller-sized ones, are facing enormous pressure.

‘My sympathy for them, however, doesn’t mask my disappointment with this approach. Local GP practices and community pharmacies working together can increase the overall uptake, which is where the real opportunity lies.

‘Getting your jab is more important than where to get it from.’

For 2018/2019, NHS England is hoping to achieve a 75% vaccine uptake for eligible adults, as recommended by the World Health organization (WHO).


Increasing uptake through ‘collaboration’


Mr Williams argued that the present flu vaccination payment model is ‘flawed’ because in order to achieve the 75% target, ‘we need to incentivise increased uptake’.

‘Community pharmacy is already viewed as invaluable in the effort. Increased uptake only happens through collaboration and consistent messages’, he said.

‘I always seek to arrange meetings with my local GP surgeries around this time of the year, explaining our plan and strategy to improve vaccination access and uptake, while asking if there is anything we can do to help them do likewise.’


Practices ‘make their own decision’


An Oxfordshire clinical commissioning group (CCG) spokesperson told The Pharmacist that as independent businesses, GP practices make their ‘own decisions about how to communicate with patients to encourage them to take up prevention and screening opportunities’.

They said: ‘Oxfordshire CCG’s priority is for as many people as possible to be vaccinated against flu as part of keeping well this winter.’


A first version of this story was published on our sister publication’s website Management in Practice.