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GP practices are being warned against making informal referrals to pharmacies “to prioritise delivery of covid booster vaccinations” as the NHS races to offer all adults a booster by 31 December.

It comes amid concerns that patients who need to see pharmacists may not be prioritised. The referral system enables GP practices to digitally refer patients with minor illness symptoms to the community pharmacist consultation service.

The system then helps pharmacy teams to make sure staff are available at the right times and can prioritise patients who need to see a pharmacist either virtually or face-to-face.

But in a bulletin to GPs yesterday, Nikki Kanani and Ali Sparke, NHS England’s directors of primary care, wrote they were “aware that some GP practices are informally directing patients to community pharmacies in order to prioritise delivery of covid booster vaccinations rather than make a referral to CPCS for the minor illness symptoms covered by the service”.

They reminded practices: “…referrals to community pharmacy for minor illness should be made to CPCS via the locally agreed electronic referral route.”

It is crunch time for community pharmacies and GP practices at the moment – and all other HCPs offering covid jabs – so it remains to be seen as to what these measures will mean for both, as the booster programme continues to accelerate and winter pressures set in.

Summer holiday

As a (slightly) early Christmas present for clinical commissioning groups, they have been given a stay of execution by three months, HSJ understands.

NHS England officials have apparently said that ICSs, including NHS integrated care boards – their main statutory component – will now go live on 1 July instead of 1 April.

The move is motivated by the parliamentary timetable of the bill, which will likely need further consideration in the Commons once its committee stage in the Lords finishes next month. This could leave a very small window for the bill to gain royal assent and legal commencement, and then be implemented on the ground.

Other measures in the bill include giving several significant new powers of direction to the health and social care secretary, including over NHS reconfigurations; and removing rules and regulations which enforce the use of competitive procurement in the NHS.