Well it’s that time of year again. Winter is coming and it’s time for the annual flu vaccine programme. This has commonly led to tensions between General Practice and Community Pharmacy as both want to deliver their maximum number of vaccines.
This tension comes from the fact that both groups order vaccines at the end of the previous year or early in the new year and worry about being left with surplus vaccines plus the income derived from delivering the vaccination programme. Given the underfunding of primary care as a whole this income can be essential to maintain financial viability and profitability for both groups of providers.
However, one clear measure shows that we fail to meet vaccination targets every year and therefore there has always been enough potential work to go around.
This year is particularly ambitious with a drive to achieve 75% coverage of the at-risk groups and the potential service expansion to 50-64-year olds. This is much higher than previously achieved and is, probably, well above the number of vaccines that have been purchased by the two sets of providers as most will have based their buying on previous years achievements.
It is likely that there has also been some wastage as ambition and delivery haven’t synchronised and again leads to potential fears of having to write some stock off. It has also been seen that where there has been good collaboration the percentages vaccinated have been greater.
This should act as a spur to us all to collaborate and ensure we vaccinate the maximum number of people in at risk groups. This is also important as we continue the battle against Covid-19 and the expectation of a second spike in infections. To maintain capacity for those that need hospitalisation from Covid-19 we need to minimise the demand caused by flu and through collaboration we can try and ensure all those that are entitled to be vaccinated are able to do so at the right time in the right place with any other care support needed delivered at the same time. In some cases, this may be best achieved by the two professions and their support staff working alongside each other to maximise the number of people vaccinated while maintaining the infection control measures demanded by Covid-19. It can be easy for either group to consider operating in this way independently, but this is likely to lead to queues and consequential disenchantment and lack of attendance for vaccination. In both groups taking every opportunity to make every contact count means there is a proactive opportunity to vaccinate.
I am disappointed that in some cases we continue to see competition in a way that increases professional tensions, but this does appear to be becoming less common. However, any such cases are much more likely to be noticed as bad news always makes more headlines.
We have enough challenges to deliver this year’s vaccination programme so let’s move from flu war to flu peace and unhealthy competition to healthy collaboration and let’s see which PCNs can deliver the greatest percentages of vaccinations and celebrate our combined success.
So, you’ve heard it from Ash and now a few brief reflections from me. There isn’t much to disagree with my pharmacist colleague. To misuse an analogy though, if this year’s flu vaccination programme is the FA Cup final then we still have the Premiership final and UEFA Cup to look forward to. What am I referring to?
This year’s flu programme is really an important dress rehearsal for the day we hope comes when a COVID19 vaccination is available. But even that pales somewhat when we think about how we are going to meet our communities’ needs during and after the pandemic which will have had a profound impact on so many peoples’ health and the way we support them.
The only way we can meet these challenges is by building relationships, building trust and meaningful ways to work together across primary care and beyond. Remember, we can wear the same team shirts without changing contracts and structures.
Dr Minesh Patel, NAPC Chair Professor Ash Soni, NAPC NED