RSPH has today published a policy paper looking at how flu vaccination rates can be improved, with recommendations made for all levels of the system, based on two RSPH-led roundtable discussions with national and regional stakeholders, including participants from the Department for Health and Social Care, Public Health England, and NHS England and NHS Improvement.

This paper builds on our recent report, Mind the Gap: London’s Low Flu Vaccination Rates and How to Fix Them, which documented the falling coverage rates in the capital since 2013, by suggesting solutions to supply, commissioning and delivery issues experienced across the country.

This year’s flu vaccination programme will face significant challenges. Across both hemispheres, record low levels of influenza detections were reported last year, posing a challenge for predicting what flu strains will dominate the 2021/22 flu season and thus for the development of this year’s vaccines.

This year’s flu vaccination programme also takes place against the backdrop of an increase in misinformation and disinformation about vaccinations, huge pressures on primary care as vaccinators will have to deliver both Covid-19 booster jabs and flu vaccines, as well as tackle long waiting lists exacerbated by the pandemic.

To support flu vaccination uptake in the face of these challenges, RSPH is calling for the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) to use the changes underway to the national public health system and the new Health and Care Bill to increase the capacity of Screening and Immunisation Teams (SITs), restoring any that were lost after the 2012 Health and Social Care Act. Through this period of transition, we are also asking the Government to ensure the Screening and Immunisation workforce receives the support, training and professional public health leadership it needs as roles and responsibilities shift.

Other recommendations in the paper include:

  • The Government should review the possibility of centralising procurement of flu vaccines to support diverse delivery models and ensure reliable supply across providers.
  • NHS England and Improvement should introduce incentives for GP practices to increase vaccination uptake in historically underserved groups, and increase the Global Sum Payment to provide funding for flexible delivery models.
  • NHS England and Improvement should work with General Practice IT system providers to improve their ability to flow data effectively to the central database and their direct interoperability
  • NHS England’s national call/ recall service should introduce text messaging or email as a mode of communication, and allow for flexibility in the timing of the communication with eligible patients to ensure it is responsive to patterns of uptake by cohort and aligned with levels of vaccine supplies.
  • Primary Care Networks and Integrated Care Systems should develop data dashboards, showing in real-time the coverage rate of each provider, and encourage the sharing of best practice across the area

As well as a full list of the recommendations which emerged from the roundtables, the policy paper captures the discussion around the importance of supporting local delivery and collaboration, how to build confidence in the flu vaccine, risks of the transition to the public health system, and the use of data to drive improvements in coverage rates.

Read the report here.

We are also calling on members of the wider public health workforce to support immunisation programmes by addressing people’s concerns and questions about vaccinations. To enable this, we have developed our Level 2 Award in Encouraging Vaccination Uptake which provides training in the use of behaviour change models in conversations and consultations to increase vaccine confidence.