Responding to guidance published this afternoon by NHS England regarding the Covid-19 booster vaccination programme, Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair, said:
“GP practices have shown every year that they are well placed to protect their communities from various diseases, not least through the annual flu jab campaign – last year delivered successfully in the midst of a pandemic, yet achieving significant uptake among patients. On top of this they led the Covid-19 vaccination programme right from the start, delivering around 75% of jabs.
“GPs are already preparing for this winter’s flu campaign, and will be keen to continue play a pivotal role in protecting their patients against Covid-19 with booster jabs alongside this. As the profession and the public are acutely aware, GP practices are under intense pressure and they must therefore be given support and the flexibility to take part in the booster campaign in a way that works best for their patients.
“It’s positive that the JCVI is already discussing administering Covid booster jabs during the same appointment as flu vaccines, but crucially, GP teams must be able to do this within their own practice buildings if they wish – which has not always been the case for Covid vaccines. This would allow patients to be vaccinated at their local practice as they are used to for their flu jabs each year, while also reducing admin, workload and bureaucracy for staff, while limiting the impact on other GP services that are just as important.
“Elsewhere in the UK we have seen this working well, so there is no reason for it not to happen in England.
“While practices should be able to work together in the campaign if that is the right choice for them and their patients, we are clear that they should not expected to do so.
“Given the achievements of the first round of vaccinations, it makes no sense for NHS England to suggest limiting the proportion of vaccines delivered locally by practice sites – and we’d be concerned that this will be interpreted as a cap on general practice’s involvement in the programme, and placing barriers in the way of patients being vaccinated by their local, trusted surgery team. On the one hand the letter proposes a ‘pull’ model in which sites can request supplies to meet their communities’ needs – something we have persistently called for – while at the same time suggesting arbitrary limits that take no account of local variations.
“While it’s good to see a commitment to continue funding additional staff to support the programme, GPs may be concerned at further hints of a bureaucratic and restrictive approach from NHS England – something that has been far too commonplace during the pandemic, and which has caused severe frustration among family doctors and their colleagues.
“If we are to ‘learn to live with’ Covid-19 in the long-term and vaccinations are to become routine, practices need to be trusted and empowered to build on their expertise, proven track record and knowledge of their communities to lead the way in ensuring the public is protected.”
Notes to editors
The BMA is a professional association and trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.