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Out-of-hours services face collapse as GPs quit shifts

GPs are facing a chaotic opening to the influenza vaccination programme with a furious row over which patients should be immunised following hot on the heels of nationwide delays in vaccine supply.

The GPC threw the programme into confusion after urging GPs to vaccinate all asthma patients as the contract directs and ignore Government advice to restrict vaccination to those with 'moderate to severe' disease.

Practices now face the stark choice of chasing quality points or following the Government expert guidance after the GPC insisted exception reporting to get around the conflict was not an option.

Dr Laurence Buckman, deputy-chair of the GPC, warned: 'The Department of Health is entitled to give advice as it sees fit, but GPs should be following the quality and outcomes framework which is based on published evidence.'

He added: 'You can't exception report something on the basis of Government advice. You can only exception report if something can't be done or if the patient will suffer.'

The department responded by reiterating that GPs should follow its guidance, recently revised by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

The row came as Chiron, producer of more than a sixth of the total flu vaccine supply, threw thousands of GPs into chaos by withdrawing all of its stocks for 'quality analysis'.

GPs across the UK were forced to cancel clinics and reschedule appointments with those in the South-West, London and the South-East, Northern Ireland and Scotland worst hit.

Dr Shaun O'Hanlon, a GP in Wornesh near Guildford, said the delay was 'a huge inconvenience' and would severely affect practices.

'Our uptake is always around 60-80 per cent but this shortage will affect our percentages at the end of the day.'

A spokesman for Wyeth Vaccines, one of Chiron's competitors, said: 'In view of the reported shortfall in deliveries the market is experiencing we have arranged for additional supplies of our flu vaccines to be made available.'

But it said there could be no deliveries until November 1.

By Emma Wilkinson and Brian Kelly

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