NHS England has said that it does not have the funding to offer community pharmacy staff flu vaccinations on the NHS.

Last year, primary care staff were included in the NHS flu scheme and were eligible for a free jab.

NHS England has described this as a ‘one-off decision’ made ‘due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the benefit of ensuring staff were offered maximum protection against both viruses’.

However, it said that there was ‘not sufficient funding to continue the primary care staff offer’, and that ‘as part of the wider direction of travel being a return to sustainable public health measures, the provision of season flu vaccinations will return to being an employer responsibility’.

NHS staff working for a trust would therefore receive a flu vaccination under their occupational health programmes, while community pharmacy employers would have to cover the cost of vaccinating their staff.

However, frontline health and social care staff without employer-led occupation schemes are eligible for flu jabs at NHS expense if they work in a residential home, nursing home, domiciliary care provider, or in a voluntary managed hospice provider working with vulnerable individuals at increased risk from flu.

Yara Botros, community pharmacist and PCN lead in central Bournemouth, said that while some of her staff - for instance, those with asthma - were eligible for NHS flu jabs, it was ‘fine’ for the pharmacy to cover the cost. ‘It's always covered by the company anyway, regardless,’ she said.

However, Thorrun Govind, chair of the RPS in England, argued that primary care staff working in community pharmacies should expect the same support as colleagues working across the NHS, and this should include access to free flu vaccinations.

While staff employed in Trusts can access flu vaccines through occupational health programmes, Ms Govind pointed out on Twitter that not all community pharmacists have that access.

Ms Govind stressed to the The Pharmacist that pharmacy teams are on the frontline of patient care and ‘will continue to play a key role in the vaccination programme this winter’.

‘It is vital that health and care staff are supported, so they can keep looking after patients, protect themselves and the public,’ she said.

In particular, she highlighted that locums, who were not employed directly by the NHS or a pharmacy, would have to cover the cost of their flu jab themselves.

She added: ‘As the Government looks to community pharmacy to boost patient access to care, this must be backed up by additional investment. This should not have to be a debate every year. Protection of frontline staff is not somewhere to cut costs.'