Immunisation is key

7 August 2020

We have a long and proud history in the delivery of immunisations to our population, and last year across the UK over 9 million people over the age of 65 were given the seasonal flu vaccination.  

The vast majority of these were given in general practice and this is one of the highest uptakes in the world. However, this year is likely to be very different. 

Firstly, social distancing will affect how we use buildings, the need for some degree of PPE will slow things down, and thirdly a much larger cohort of patients will need to be immunised - broadly double the number for flu with inclusion of the 50-64 age group. This is before we even consider whether we might have a vaccination against COVID-19. 

My local area is 'gearing up', looking at how we can rise to the challenge and in most cases, working with neighbouring practices will be the way forward, given economies of scale. 

This is a significant challenge given that numbers of patients consulting their general practice is now back to pre COVID-19 levels. The College has published a document on delivering mass vaccinations during COVID-19 (705 KB PDF).

One of the positives from recent months has been the greater focus on population health and within this, immunisation is key. General Practice responded in the 1960s with the delivery of the smallpox vaccine and again in 2010 following swine flu. We need to do the same again. This won’t be easy, but it is of high relevance and priority and I know that GPs will rise to the challenge as we always do.


Post written by

Dr Jonathan Leach, RCGP Joint Honorary Secretary


COVID-19 update from your College

Phase 3 COVID response - resuming normal GP service

NHS England has issued a letter to all GP practices (297 KB PDF) about the 'third phase' response to COVID-19, including the resumption of face-to-face consultations. While the College is pleased that planning is underway for the next phase, the pressures GPs face over the next few months cannot be underestimated and GP teams will need a lot of support to get through the usual winter pressures, including the largest-ever flu vaccine programme (with social distancing and PPE), as well as the 'long COVID' aftermath and the very real threat of a second wave.

As practices reopen and more 'normal' ways of working are resumed, expectations will have to be managed and the College will be working with NHS England to influence the next standard operating procedure which will be published soon - and to make sure that GPs are given enough time to prepare. It’s also essential that other NHS services are up and running when GPs need to refer patients.

COVID-19 support fund

In a separate but related move, we were pleased to see that the long awaited COVID-19 support fund for general practice has now been launched. This will enable practices to access assistance with the additional costs of dealing with the pandemic response.

It's important that this funding reaches practices as soon as possible, and we'll be working alongside the BMA and NHSE to ensure that GPs receive the support and resources needed to cope with the next phase of the pandemic. More information can be found in this document for practices and their commissioners (248 KB PDF).

Appraisal update

You may have heard 'noises' about appraisals re-starting in October. We try not to comment on 'leaks' but can understand why this news has caused upset when workload in general practice is back to pre-COVID levels and enormous pressures are looming. We’re expecting the official notification to be published soon and whilst we can’t guarantee what it will say, we have had assurances that it will not be a return to the previous system and that there will be a significant scaling back of paperwork and a shift in emphasis.

The College does not make the decisions over the timetable for appraisals or what the future of appraisal will look like, but we will continue to push for an effective system of professional development for GPs, not a burdensome regulatory process that has little benefit for doctors or patients. You can read more in our paper approved by UK Council and published in July, General Practice in the Post-COVID World.

Chronic pain - draft NICE guidance

Diagnosing and providing long-term care for patients suffering with chronic pain can be extremely challenging, and this week NICE published first draft guidelines on diagnosing and managing patients suffering with chronic pain. In summary, the guidance questions the effectiveness of opioid-based painkillers as a treatment method, and recommends more of a non-pharmacological approach, with more emphasis on referring patients to alternative therapies such as acupuncture.

A focus on alternative therapies such as pain management clinics does have potential to benefit patients, but only if there is adequate community access. Although prescribing long-term opioid-based medication is something to be avoided if possible, it is also important not to dismiss the relief that it can bring to some patients. RCGP Chair Martin Marshall made these points in our media statement that featured in The Express, The Times and on BBC News. He was also interviewed on LBC, BBC Radio 5 Live and Times Radio. We will be making a formal College response to NICE to ensure that the GP perspective on managing patients with chronic pain and the difficulties they encounter is taken into account.


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