Brace yourselves for a massive tax demand
By Nerys Hairon
Incensed GPs have rejected Government claims that they are to
blame for causing the flu vaccine supply crisis.
Department of Health officials accused GPs of doling out the vaccine to the 'worried well' or ordering too little in the first place.
As practices in many areas compiled waiting lists of at-risk patients and scrambled around for supplies, the Government's chief immunisation official admitted some vulnerable patients might have to go without this winter.
Dr David Salisbury, head of immunisation at the department, said existing contingency stocks were nearly exhausted, a further 200,000 doses would not be delivered until late January and it was unclear whether the department would be able to meet demand.
He insisted there were only two possible explanations for the crisis and either way GPs were to blame. Uptake among eligible groups in October was lower than last year suggesting vaccine had been used on the 'worried well', he claimed.
A department spokesman said either this or under-ordering by GPs had caused the crisis but admitted it had no idea which was the main problem.
But GPs retorted that initial delays in vaccine supplies of several weeks had forced them to put back the launch of the flu campaign. PCTs contacted by Pulse insisted GPs' hard work in catching up meant uptake in at-risk groups was now running higher than last winter.
Dr Rickman Godlee, chair of Oxfordshire LMC, said: 'I'm very upset by the suggestion that it's our fault it's pretty shabby. We work hard to limit it to the at-risk people.'
Dr Stephen Fox, chair of Wigan LMC, said: 'I was extrem-ely offended by what David Salisbury said. It's appalling and irresponsible to blame GPs.'
GPC member Dr Charles Simenoff, who practises in Manchester, said the department and not GPs was to blame: 'Last year the Government ran out of vaccines and the year before they did as well. I have no doubt that next year it will run out.'
GPC deputy chair Dr Laurence Buckman said bird flu had been the 'main driver' for more at-risk patients coming forward. 'There is no evidence that GPs have been using the flu vaccine inappropriately.'
QOF targets, and the addition of carers as an at-risk group after vaccine orders had been placed, had also stoked demand, said GPs.
Claim and counterclaim
Why have supplies run out?
· Dr David Salisbury, Department of Health head of immunisation: 'The evidence shows the coverage in risk groups is no higher this year than last year. Either GPs didn't order enough or the vaccine has gone somewhere else. There is no other way to explain it.'
· Dr Laurence Buckman, GPC deputy chair: 'Doctors have been giving flu jabs to the people who ought to be having them. The qualifying people have all turned up.'
Were there sufficient supplies for all eligible patients to receive vaccine, as claimed by ministers?
· Dr Salisbury: 'I think it was true. The figures are pretty straightforward. [Compared with] the number in risk groups, there was a surplus available to GPs.'
· Dr Buckman: 'It is obviously not true because we have run out before we have done all the vulnerable.'