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NHSEI confirms flu vaccine funding for optometrists in England

Following calls from optical sector bodies, frontline NHS general ophthalmic contractors and patient-facing staff are eligible for a flu vaccine

KY jab
Pexels/Karolina Grabowska

NHS England and Improvement (NHSEI) has made funding available for flu vaccines for primary care optometrists and patient-facing practice staff in England, following calls from optical membership bodies to widen access.

In a letter to contractors, NHSEI confirmed that, during the current influenza season from 1 September 2021 to 31 March 2022, funding has been made available to offer flu jabs for the frontline staff of eligible primary care contractors, including locums.

This will include frontline general ophthalmic contractors, as well as primary dental services for the first time. Primary care frontline staff include those in clinical and non-clinical patient-facing roles.

Dr Peter Hampson, AOP clinical and professional director, welcomed the change, “which sees those working in optics eligible for a free flu vaccine for the first time.”

Optical membership bodies including the AOP signed a letter to NHSEI calling for funded access to the seasonal flu vaccination scheme, illustrating the challenges that eye care professionals face in acquiring a flu vaccine.

“It is unfair that in the past, the burden to fund flu vaccinations has fallen on practices and individual clinicians when this has been freely available for other primary care workers,” Hampson said. “Especially as the optical sector, like others in the primary care family, looks after a large proportion of the older population who are at most risk of developing complications from seasonal flu.”

Hampson emphasised that reducing barriers to accessing the flu vaccine would be important in the months ahead. He said: “The NHS is facing huge pressures this winter season, so it’s essential that take-up of the flu vaccination is high and that we remove any potential access barriers to ensure the ongoing delivery of optical services. It is even more important in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Earlier this autumn, the Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation advised that, as COVID-19 infections would likely continue to circulate alongside seasonal influenza this winter, this could contribute to pressures on the NHS. The Government has confirmed that flu vaccination “remains a priority” and encouraged the public to take up the offer of both vaccines when they receive it.