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Huge cuts ahead for overspent PCT

Angry GPs demand apology as Pulse investigation disproves Government claims of surplus

By Emma Wilkinson

The Government failed to secure enough flu vaccine to cover all its target groups ­ contrary to its claims of a surplus.

Pulse can reveal that officials missed out 1.3 million health care workers and an unknown number of newly eligible carers from its initial estimate of those needing vaccination ­ on top of omitting patients from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It means the Government's attack on GPs for wasting excess vaccines was completely unfounded. Rather than a reserve of three million vaccines, there was actually a shortfall of more than a million (see chart, right).

Dr David Salisbury, the Government's head of immunisation, issued his attack in a letter to GPs, claiming the 14 million flu vaccines available in the UK were 'far in excess' of the 11 million needed for eligible patients, and accusing GPs of doling out vaccine to the 'worried well'.

But the Department of Health appeared to backtrack from the accusation in light of the new figures, which suggest the true number eligible for vaccination in the UK is more than 15 million.

The department said: 'It now appears that, right across Europe, there has been an increase in demand this year, which has led to shortages in the vaccine.'

The GPC said the Government 'must apologise' and that the profession demanded a

'dignified response'.

Furious GPs also demanded an apology and said the late addition of carers to the target groups ­ after vaccines had been ordered ­ was a 'cock-up waiting to happen'.

Dr Mike Parks, medical secretary of Kent LMC, said: 'We deserve an apology for the appalling way he has impugned GPs. We have been working extremely hard to deliver their policy. I think [Salisbury] is trying to save his job.'

Chris Locke, chief executive of Nottingham LMC, said: 'They have done a huge disservice to GPs ­ it wasn't GPs' fault at all.'

Dr Peter Jolliffe, chief officer at Devon LMC, attacked the Government for its late and rushed addition of carers.

'It was a cock-up waiting to happen. The least one should do when you've made an accusation without foundation is to apologise,' he said.

The department said it had begun an 'urgent review' into arrangements for ordering flu vaccines and would be finding out who had been vaccinated and whether GPs had ordered enough stocks.

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