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Flu campaign a ‘shambles’ as vaccination rates way down on last year

The national flu vaccination programme has got off to a poor start despite the introduction of a new pharmacy scheme aimed at boosting uptake in high-risk groups, official figures reveal, with GP leaders warning it could be a ‘shambles’.

The data show that only 22% of people under 65 years in a clinical risk group has been vaccinated against seasonal flu so far, compared with 25% this time last year.

Meanwhile only 43% of over-65s have received their flu jab according to the week 42 data – compared with nearly 45% last year.

Local GP leaders said they showed the Government has not done enough to promote the flu vaccine through publicity campaigns, following media reports that last year’s vaccine only protected around 3% of people.

Pulse reported that pharmacies have been telling patients to cancel GP appointments so they can provide jabs themselves under the Government’s national pharmacy scheme.

However, the latest figures suggest that the scheme has done little to increase uptake in high-risk groups.

The figures, from the latest weekly national flu report published by Public Health England (PHE), show:

  • 21.9% of pregnant women have been vaccinated this year, compared with 22.4% at the same stage last year;
  • only 5% of two- and three-year-olds have received their shot of the nasal flu vaccine compared with over 8% last year;
  • 4% of four-year-olds have been immunised relative to 7% as of week 42 in 2014.

NHS England announced the national pharmacy scheme in the summer, in a move it said should boost uptake in at-risk patients, by capturing ‘hard-to-reach patients who would not otherwise take up the vaccine’.

Dr Peter Scott, LMC leader in Solihull, told Pulse: ’The flu campaign this year is likely to be a shambles as for the first GPs are in direct competition for giving the injectable flu jab and some pharmacies appear to be quite indiscriminate in offering the immunisations. They are saying to patients let us give you your flu jab your doctor is too busy to do that for you this year – which is not true.

’They have on one occasion immunised a patient who had already had their jab from us – so they have had had two flu jabs.’

A PHE spokesperson told Pulse that the figures did include jabs administered by pharmacists, who are obliged to send information about vaccinations to the GP practice on the same day or next working day. 

Dr Richard Pebody, head of seasonal flu surveillance at PHE, said: ‘The provisional weekly influenza vaccine uptake data represents data from a sample of GP practices in England. The early weekly uptake figures are slightly lower than those seen in the previous year, though generally higher than the comparable period in 2013/14.’

He added: ‘The lower uptake within the child flu programme is attributable to a later launch compared to last year. We would strongly urge anyone who is eligible but hasn’t yet received their free flu vaccination to contact their GP.’

Pulse reported this month that at least three LMCs have claimed pharmacists are directing patients away from GP appointments so they can administer the vaccines themselves.

The GPC said it was looking into the issue, and that there are potentially more areas where it is happening. 

Readers' comments (27)

  • Putting flu into Pharmacy is utter madness. The problem will be in future years because GP's are not going to order as many flu vaccines because of the uncertainty as to how manywill be used. Public Health England have touted this as 'improving uptake' however anyone applying logic to this can clearly see it will reduce uptake.

    Do they have the guts to reverse this change. I doubt it. the pharmacy lobby is strong.

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  • We are also losing out big time to the Pharmacies this year. Already 10% of our patients have been nabbed by them.

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  • I called into a Boots Pharmacy in Nottinghamshire with my elderly Aunt and asked for a "free" vaccination as her carer. I would have received it, until I came clean and told them I lived in Cornwall and she was in a local Nursing Home.

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  • Classic example of headline and story not matching - "way down"?

    The "3% effective / 97% ineffective" vaccine last year is widely quoted in the general media - would that have an impact on patient take up?

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  • You can load the stats whichever way you want to paint the picture you require. Our leaders were commenting that we had vaccinated more patients by mid-October than we did in total last season.

    I do feel that the negative press has had an effect on uptake. There will be unscrupulous pharmacist behaviour as well as unscrupulous GP behaviour, I can't really see how this will affect uptake negatively mind. Also pharmacies can't be blamed for poor uptake of children's vaccine.

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  • "...unscrupulous GP behaviour" - really? Such as?
    From GP perspective, we ordered sufficient vaccine for our patients based on indication and previous uptake. Suddenly we discover that patients can be immunised in pharmacies "to help your GP" so the system is destabilised. Next year, who knows? I think that's when the real reduction in uptake will be manifest as GPs have to hedge their bets around ordering. As far as increasing uptake this year, every patient on our list immunised (NHS) in a pharmacy so far this year had the vaccine last year from us.

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  • Pharmacies have been vaccinatiung for three years in our area so there should be no problems with over ordering by surgeries.

    Patients have been told that my doesn't have any vaccine in when we do, that vaccines are specifically ordered for that patient and will be wasted if they go elsewhere, and that the money from GP vaccines goes back into the NHS, whereas with pharmacies it doesn't.

    The GP had no answer when the patient asked why they had ordered a vaccine in for him specifically, when he had been to a pharmacy for the last three years.

    I also had a patient ask if the GP would save their vaccine until they had come back off their holiday. They were told that it would be gone by then. No reply when they said that they thought it was ordered in specifically for them like they were told a few moments previous.

    Don't pretend that this isn't going on. Some surgeries have been stupid enough to put these coercive thoughts in writing. And yes there will have certainly been underhand tactics from pharmacies, just get your head out of the sand about your own shortcomings.

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  • **corrected**

    Pharmacies have been vaccinating for three years in our area so there should be no problems with over ordering by surgeries.

    Patients have been told that my pharmacy doesn't have any vaccine in stock when we do, that vaccines are specifically ordered for that patient and will be wasted if they go elsewhere, and that the money from GP vaccines goes back into the NHS, whereas with pharmacies it doesn't.

    The GP had no answer when the patient asked why they had ordered a vaccine in for him specifically, when he had been to a pharmacy for the last three years.

    I also had a patient ask if the GP would save their vaccine until they had come back off their holiday. They were told that it would be gone by then. No reply when they said that they thought it was ordered in specifically for them like they were told a few moments previous.

    Don't pretend that this isn't going on. Some surgeries have been stupid enough to put these coercive thoughts in writing. And yes there will have certainly been underhand tactics from pharmacies, just get your head out of the sand about your own shortcomings.

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  • "...just get your head out of the sand about your own shortcomings" - I don't understand Whose head and shortcomings?

    Bottom line, GPs have had responsibility to order sufficient vaccine - this will have to go thus leading to the likely "shambles" in future years. Ditto, the call and recall system.
    Why are you objecting to patients being told the truth (ie vaccine will be wasted if the service is fragmented)?

    The money from vaccines does go back to the NHS as part of the GP funding stream which I doubt we are alone in using towards funding extra GP appointments over the winter.

    I wouldn't try to make a case based on one anecdote.

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  • Vinci Ho

    I stil blame the government of not doing enough to promote the campaign especially after last year's wrong prediction on which strain would be prevalent. People need better information and education to re-establish confidence . But typically , doing 'a bit' more would be perceived as more costly as far as the government is concerned , do nothing costs nothing.....

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