GP contract changes
Further details have been provided about changes to the GP contract for 2021/22 to free up practices to allow them to help accelerate the booster vaccination programme.
Full details of the changes are in this article here.
NHS England's 7 December letter setting out the changes is here.
Mandatory vaccination for NHS staff
NHS England has published new guidance on mandatory vaccination for NHS staff, which is due to come into effect on 1 April 2022.
Under current rules, staff will need to have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine by 3 February at the latest to be able to complete the two-dose primary vaccination course before the cut-off date.
The advice says integrated care systems are encouraged to share advice and expertise on interpreting the rules, but it adds that 'primary care providers may wish to seek individual HR and legal advice to take into account variations in local contractual terms and conditions'.
Practices - along with other employers of NHS staff - have been told to 'review and assess' which roles fall under the scope of the new rules and update privacy notices explaining to employees how their data will be used to comply with data protection laws.
They will need to 'actively support uptake of vaccination via communication and engagement', with a recommendation that 'sensitive one-to-one conversations approached holistically, with empathy and respect, are the best way to convert vaccine hesitancy to vaccine uptake'.
Practices will need to set up systems to record the 'vaccination and exemption status' of their workforce and agree with medical schools how students' vaccination status will be confirmed.
Practices have also been urged to 'proactively plan and identify potential workforce reconfigurations' so that unvaccinated staff can be redeployed to roles with no direct contact with patients where possible. However, the guidance says 'formal redeployment of workers should not commence until the regulation has been approved by parliament which is expected on 6 January 2022.
From 16 December new treatments for non-hospitalised patients with COVID-19 will be available in the community.
The treatments will be available for those patients most at-risk of severe disease. GPs will not prescribe or dispense the drugs but may need to refer patients to a local COVID-19 Medicine Delivery Unit where they will be assessed for eligibility and treatment will be arranged.
The neutralising monoclonal antibodies (nMABs) casirivimab and imdevimab are provided to patients intravenously, while the antiviral molnupiravir is an oral tablet.
In most cases patients will be identified following a postivie PCR test and contacted directly by the medicine delivery unit. Eligible patients who have not been contacted within 24 hours of a positive PCR test will be encouraged to contact their practice in order to be referred to the unit, NHS England has said.
In addition, practices have also been asked to help recruit patients to a community-based study into molnupiravir, which will make the drug available to a wider cohort of patients. Patients can enrol in the study directly, but practices have been asked to review their list of patients who test positive each day and either signpost those who are eligible to consider enrolling in the study or refer them to the local GP hub.
National protocols and PGDs
The national protocol for the branded version of the Pfizer vaccine Comirnaty and the Moderna vaccine have been updated to include changes that now allow administration of a booster vaccine at three months after the second dose instead of six. It also allows for second jabs to be administered to 12- to 15-year-olds. The PGDs for both vaccines have also been updated.
Change in COVID-19 rules for England
The government has announced a change in rules to help curb the spread of COVID-19 in light of the Omicron variant. From 10 December face coverings will be required by law in most indoor settings. From 13 December office workers who can work from home should do so. From 15 December certain venues and event will be required by law to check that all visitors aged over 18 are fully vaccinated, exempt or have proof of a negative test in the previous 48 hours.
Previously announced rules will also require anyone who is a close contact of a confirmed case of the Omicron variant to self isolate, regardless of their vaccination status or if they are aged under 18 years and 6 months.
Full details of the current government advice is here.
COVID-19 guidance tracker
Don't forget that our COVID-19 GP guidance tracker provides a list of guidance relevant to GP practices in an easy-to-search format. The tracker is regularly updated and you can find it here.