After a record 1.7 million flu vaccines have been delivered by community pharmacies in England since September, the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) has now published its latest guidance on how contractors can access extra stock of flu vaccines this winter.
Both the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society concurred that while the guidance was a welcome step, the DH took a while to get it out to the community pharmacy contractors who have faced weeks on uncertainty over supply and stock of the government’s largest flu programme ever.
“Whilst it’s welcome that this guidance on flu vaccination stocks is now available for community pharmacists in England, it’s frustrating that it has taken this long,” remarked RPS England chair Claire Anderson.
“If we’re to support collaborative working with healthcare professionals to deliver this ambitious programme, pharmacists need to be included in guidance early alongside others,” she added.
The vaccine stock procured by the DH will start to be delivered through November and supplies will also be obtained in December.
“The DH has worked with Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) to develop a process for accessing the stock, giving consideration to the supply route via which pharmacies normally receive their flu vaccines and seeking to limit the impact on the business as usual supply chains,” the pharmacy negotiator said.
With the latest guidance, the DH aims to protect and mitigate the risks of unintended use, as the stock procurement is a taxpayer funded programme.
Commenting on the agreement for pharmacy access to the DH stock, Alastair Buxton, director of NHS Services at PSNC, said: “We are pleased that a process for pharmacy access to the DH stock has now been put in place, but it is regrettable that DH took much longer than expected to publish the details.”
How to order additional stock
Community pharmacy contractors will have to determine if there is a need for further flu vaccines by assessing current and expected uptake rates in eligible groups compared with current vaccine supply.
The usual route to place an order for additional stock will be via the wholesaler. The DH will advise which wholesalers have been allocated stock via the NHS BSA website. The wholesalers will also alert contractors when stock is available to order and will advise them on delivery times, ordering limits and pricing information.
Community pharmacy contractors will be required by wholesalers to sign a self-certification declaration before they can access additional stock, which will include confirming that they have either used up or allocated all of the locally procured flu vaccines and any additional previously ordered flu vaccines such as those yet to be delivered but meant for the eligible groups which require additional vaccine.
Contractors will also need to agree not to return any of their local stock order for those groups to suppliers.
The DH has divided potential use the vaccines into three groups, with initial use of the stock only allowed for Group A, which consists of patients and frontline health and social care workers as set out in Annex A of the Community Pharmacy Seasonal Influenza Vaccination Advanced Service specification, and frontline health and social care workers through locally agreed occupational health schemes.
Group B will include 50-64 year olds, under the NHS Advanced service, but this group can be vaccinated only after the DH and NHS England notify community pharmacies that they will be able use additional vaccines on this age group.
Group C will include all other patients under private provision or occupational health schemes. Pharmacies will only be able to use the DH procured stock for this group of patients if surplus stock is available and DH notifies pharmacies that this is permissible.
Community pharmacies should submit claims for eligible vaccinations administered via the manage your service (MYS) portal. Paper claim forms are no longer available and will not be accepted.
Claims will be accepted by NHS Business Services Authority within six months of the vaccination being administered or by 31 August 2021, whichever date is earlier, in accordance with the usual Drug Tariff claims process. Later claims will not be processed.
NHS BSA provider assurance team will be conducting post payment verification (PPV) on flu service claims, as they have in the past, on behalf of NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSEI). Community Pharmacies are advised to keep appropriate records to support their claims.
Any community pharmacy in England can provide the service, as long as it has a consultation room, can procure the vaccination, can meet the data recording requirements and has appropriately trained staff.