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Government flu target missed ­ but ministers exonerate GPs

GPs have missed the Government's national flu vaccine uptake target. Final uptake among over-65s in England this winter reached 69 per cent ­ 1 per cent below the target.

GPs fell short of the target in almost half of primary care trusts ­ 150 out of 304. In two areas, uptake was under 50 per cent and in nine others it was below 60 per cent.

Inner-city areas and those with high ethnic minority populations were most likely to miss the target.

But the Department of Health was quick to jump to GPs' defence. A spokeswoman blamed the upheaval caused by NHS reform, with PCTs taking over responsibility for the vaccination campaign from health authorities.

The failure to achieve a high-profile Government target is likely to leave ministers with a dilemma. They had planned to ratchet up pressure on GPs to increase uptake among at-risk under-65s next winter but may now be tempted to keep GPs' focus on achieving high uptake among the elderly.

A department spokeswoman said: 'Flu vaccination is voluntary. The reasons why people don't come forward are complex and are not a reflection on the work undertaken at local level to encourage people to get the jab.

'The programme was delivered against a background of the NHS undergoing major changes to its structure.'

Immunisation co-ordinators will be called in to meet department officials next month to identify lessons for next winter.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Liam Donaldson praised GPs and practice nurses for achieving uptake 1

per cent above last winter despite the challenge of working with the new NHS structure.

Dr George Kassianos, RCGP immunisation spokesman and a GP in Bracknell, Berkshire, said the low level of flu activity meant patients did not see vaccination as a big issue.

'There is a very good reason why uptake has been poor in some areas. We have not had any local outbreaks or an epidemic. In the absence of this we need a stronger campaign from the department.'

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