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RCGP warns low flu vaccination uptake is ‘extremely alarming’

The RCGP has described the low uptake of flu vaccinations this year as ‘extremely alarming’, after figures showed that coverage in the target groups of patients in clinical risk groups remains well behind what it was at the same stage of the flu campaign last year.

The college said 6% fewer jabs had been given – with more than 100 fewer patients per practice vaccinated than at this time last year - leaving surgery fridges ‘full’ of unused vaccine.

It issued a press statement urging patients ‘not to shun the reminders they receive from the GP surgery’.

The RCGP’s intervention comes as local leaders have warned that the flu vaccination programme risks becoming a ’shambles’, due to the poor uptake and the confusion caused by the pharmacy vaccination scheme.

Professor Simon de Lusignan, director of the RCGP Research and Surveillance Centre and a GP in Guildford, Surrey, said: ‘In my practice, we appear to be giving fewer vaccines and have now slowed the ordering of vaccines because our fridges are full.’

He added: ‘The reasons for this are unclear, but it is possible that perceptions of lower vaccine effectiveness last year may have influenced people.’

There were reports last year that last year’s vaccine was only effective in 3% of cases, although this was later revised to 34% _ which Professor de Lusignan said was a ‘reasonable’ level of effectiveness.

Of the latest figures, RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker said: ’These figures are extremely alarming. We are experiencing an incredibly mild November this year but we don’t need cold weather for a flu outbreak and influenza is a horrible illness that can also an trigger a host of other health problems.

’We urge patients not to shun the reminders they receive from the GP surgery and to have their vaccination as a priority. It provides valuable protection and plays a key role in keeping vulnerable people as healthy as possible through the winter.’

She added that the lower uptake ’can only increase the risks for the frail elderly and others more susceptible to flu, as well as potentially increasing winter pressures on the NHS’.

Pulse reported last week that only 22% of people under 65 years in a clinical risk group had been vaccinated against seasonal flu, compared with 25% the same time last year, while only 43% of over-65s received their flu jab according to the week 42 data, compared with nearly 45% last year.

Meanwhile, pharmacies have been telling patients to cancel GP appointments so they can provide jabs themselves under the new Government scheme, which allows pharmacists to give flu vaccinations.

However, Public Health England has suggested that the uptake rate could be higher, due to pharmacists not recording their vaccinations.

Dr Richard Pebody, PHE’s head of seasonal flu surveillance, said: ’Vaccine uptake is slightly lower than the same period last year for several key groups. For eligible children, this is likely to be attributable to the later launch date this season compared to last year.

’Adult vaccination rates are also slightly down when compared to the 2014/15 season for the elderly and under-65 at-risk programmes, although similar for pregnant women. This flu season, for the first time, many community pharmacies are offering free NHS flu vaccinations.

’NHS England has confirmed that 400,000 vaccinations have been given to adults in risk groups through pharmacies so far this flu season and it’s likely that some of these vaccinations have yet to be entered onto patient records, which could partly be contributing to lower uptake figures in adults so far this season.’

 

 

 

 

 

Readers' comments (10)

  • DOH shambles in splitting GP provision with pharmacies, messing up the recall.

    Confusing patients and ending up wasting time and resources on those already given vaccine but pharmacies failing to inform practices.

    Poor marketing from DOH after pathetic protection from last year made patients think vaccination pointless thanks to media coverage and bias,

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  • ’NHS England has confirmed that 400,000 vaccinations have been given to adults in risk groups through pharmacies so far this flu season and it’s likely that some of these vaccinations have yet to be entered onto patient records, which could partly be attributing to lower uptake figures in adults so far this season.’

    That reads to me like the vaccine has not been entered onto the patients records. This might be due to pharmacies not informing practices, but I have personal experience of a practice not entering jabs I did for over two weeks. The unwillingness to do this unpaid work may be having an effect on both total numbers and recall.

    Plus the bad publicity has had a marked effect on uptake in my experience.

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  • And is anyone actually surprised about the uptake. The main thing for everyone to note, is that it will be far worse next year. Remember it is in our interests to use it this year, we have stocks of vaccine far in excess of the 10% sale or return percentage most of use have.

    DoH need to give funds for practices to target their patients, who haven't yet had a jab, but that would be too logical and sensible.

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  • The government wanted "market forces" to work to improve outcomes.
    However in a not a truly open market, the issue of "moral hazard" plays out.
    The Practices which hadn`t ordered early have not been as aggressive as spending extra resources of dwindling numbers and the "moral hazard" that fall in uptake is now "their fault alone".
    Next year I hear many practices are not planning to do flu jabs at all.
    That will test the market factors theory well!
    I would be advising all practices in our Federation to think twice before ordering vaccination next year if the DOH push with the pharmacy flu jab scheme!
    Since flu jab is the most cost effective QALY in respiratory illness, a bad winter would be the death knell to the already dying NHS!

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  • Pay, insurance, pension, recruitement, morale..etc The ground is ready for a final push with a bad flu epidemic helped with an "un-intended low flu-jab uptake" = down goes the NHS. Dr Evil would have struggled to do better. Well done Tory government, well done, bravo. Lots of blood on your hands but I am sure you dont give a toss as money is all you care about.

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  • the above should be (fall in uptake of flu jab is NOT "their fault" alone but DOH and pharmacies as well)

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  • My local doctors decided to open a pharmacy. The reason given was to improve access.

    Has the total number of people who receive prescriptions decreased? No. How does adding another provider decrease uptake? You can't have it both ways.

    We're always hearing about an evidence base on this site. It's about time evidence rather than prejudice was used when it came to this topic.

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  • Agree with the comments re pharmacies.
    Despite our telling patients to book with us, several have had undue pressure from pharmacists when collecting prescriptions, they have been commandeered to have their flu jab there and then and get told they are helping the GP!
    what's more, I have seen several patients who have had a pharmacy flu jab, but we have not received info, batch numbers etc.
    we are going to have extra work chasing people we think haven't had jabs, who turn out to have had them after all.
    Qof targets for flu in at risk groups should be suspended immediately.

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  • The 3% effective (97% ineffective)statistic for last year's vaccine has been widely reported in the general media.

    I would have thought that this would have had more of an uptake than two sets of health professionals both trying to encourage patients to have it.

    Saying that, having an IT system between pharmacies and GPs to allow automatic update of records would be very sensible. It is crazy that a "paper first" approach has been taken on this national service.

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  • Valerie Jane Philip | GP Partner12 Nov 2015 4:33pm

    Agree with the comments re pharmacies.
    Despite our telling patients to book with us, several have had undue pressure from pharmacists when collecting prescriptions, they have been commandeered to have their flu jab there and then and get told they are helping the GP!

    And this affects uptake negatively? How?

    If pharmacies aren't notifying you then they aren't acting appropriately and should be made aware. You're not responsible for product recalls or yellow card reporting for vaccines we administer so there is no need for you to be told batch numbers etc. That would actually be more work for practices.

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