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The GPC is demanding the Government steps in to compensate GPs who face losing thousands of pounds in income and administration costs after the first month of the flu vaccination campaign was wiped out in many areas.

GPs were forced to cancel hundreds of thousands of appointments and turn away high-risk patients as practices unaffected by the supply crisis were urged to share their vaccine around.

The chaos spiralled after the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency suspended UK manufacturing of the vaccine by leading supplier Chiron, leaving a shortfall of 2.4 million doses.

GPs, who are set to miss out on thousands in quality pay and vaccine fees, reacted with fury after Chiron failed to offer compensation.

The GPC's negotiator on prescribing, Dr Mary Church, said it would press the Government to ensure GPs were paid using historic uptake

data. 'We will also have to negotiate for the cost of opening up extra clinics and staff costs.'

Many GPs will have to open weekend clinics in November in a desperate attempt to meet immunisation targets.

Dr George Kassianos, RCGP immunisation spokes-man, said GPs would have to 'roll their sleeves up' and work Saturdays and Sundays.

Dr Kassianos, whose Berkshire practice has had to cancel 1,200 appointments, urged GPs to prioritise high-risk patients and if necessary to turn healthy over-65s away.

Some GPs are considering suing Chiron for breach of contract. Dr Alan McDevitt, assistant secretary of Glasgow LMC, said his practice had cancelled 2,000 patients and incurred thousands in postage and staffing costs. 'GPs are beginning to ask who is liable for all the extra cost.'

Dr Martin Schweiger, consultant in communicable disease at the Health Protection Agency in Leeds, said: 'If some practices have over-ordered the PCT will need to step in and negotiate with GPs to share the vaccine around.'

Dr Adam Greig, of Berks and Bucks LMC, which has a bulk deal with Chiron, said reps had promised to compensate GPs for initial delays but not for subsequent cancellations. Chiron denied knowledge of the offer.

The Department of Health said the issue was a contractual one between Chiron and GPs but that it had sourced alternative supplies of vaccine.

By Brian Kelly

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