Practice Statement on COVID-19 Boosters and Annual Flu Vaccinations

We have received a number of reports of patients being provided with inaccurate or incorrect information regarding the role of The Symons Medical Centre in the delivery of the autumn COVID-19 booster programme and the concurrent annual influenza vaccination campaign.

Therefore, we are publishing a short statement to outline the Practice position and to inform our patients of the rationale behind the differing service received by patients registered with networked practices, and patients registered with practices that continue to operate independently of the network structure.

Primary Care Networks (PCNs) – What are they and what do they mean?

From July 2019, practices across England were encouraged, as part of the NHS Long-term Plan, to group together with other local practices to form Primary Care Networks (PCNs). The networks are intended to provide integrated services that serve multiple practice populations (totalling around 30-50,000 patients) within a specific geographical area. As of May 2020, most practices in England have joined one of around 1,200 PCNs across the country.

Most networks focus on the recruitment of additional members of non-GP staff, such as Pharmacists or Physiotherapists, that can be shared among networked and non-networked practices and take on some of the work that has historically been done by GPs. However, there is also the expectation that clinicians in networked practices will devote significant time to attending regular multi-disciplinary team (MDT) meetings for a variety of patient demographics.

Practices are not mandated to join a network, and neighbouring networks are funded to provide services to those patients whose practice is not covered by a network – i.e., PCN services will be available to all patients regardless of whether their practice is in a PCN. The COVID-19 vaccination programme is one such service for which the PCN receives funding to vaccinate patients of both PCN and non-PCN affiliated GP surgeries.

Why is The Symons Medical Centre not part of a Primary Care Network?

While most practices nationwide have signed up to a PCN, some practices decided to opt-out and were free to do so – The Symons Medical Centre being one of them.

When the PCN proposals were presented, our partnership team felt that we were already well-placed to deliver safe and effective care to our patients, and shared concerns expressed by other GPs nationwide that the PCN proposals lacked clear purpose, would increase practice workload, and also take doctors’ time away from treating patients.

While the perception may be that those practices who have not joined PCNs wish to be ‘awkward’, our decision was reached with the best interests of our patients in mind. 

Does The Symons Medical Centre benefit financially from staying outside of the PCN?

No. In fact, the practice loses out on a payment as a result of our non-networked status. This funding was relinquished due to concerns that joining a network would lead to the practice having to deliver additional initiatives of questionable value and take more GP time away from direct patient care. However, all PCN services are available to Symons Medical Centre patients, and this is made explicit in all NHS England documentation.

Why do I have to have my COVID-19 booster at the Town Hall but have my flu vaccination at the surgery?

As outlined above, the PCN receives funding to deliver the COVID-19 vaccinations and has operated a successful vaccination site from the Desborough Suite for a considerable period. This vaccination site has provided vaccinations for both PCN and Symons Medical Centre patients.

However, the flu campaign is not funded in the same way, with annual flu clinics funded by NHS England at an individual practice level. Therefore, dependent on the number of vaccinations carried out, these clinics can generate significant funding for individual practices that can then be reinvested for the benefit of patients. As things stand, the PCN does not receive funding to provide flu vaccinations to non-PCN patients, however the local networked practices have decided to collaborate to offer flu vaccinations alongside the COVID booster for PCN patients.

As the autumn COVID booster campaign was announced we sought to be designated as a vaccination site, which would have enabled us to deliver both COVID and flu vaccinations to our patients from the surgery site. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts and detailed discussions with the local Integrated Care Board (ICB), we were not permitted to do so.

We understand that this has generated frustration for some patients who feel that they are receiving a different service to other patients in the local area and, in some circumstances, have been misinformed that this difference is caused by malign intentions on the part of The Symons Medical Centre. We hope that the information outlined above will provide an explanation to our patients on the relationship between the practice, the local PCN, and the ICB, and how this impacts the delivery of two vitally important vaccination campaigns.