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GPs go forth

Patients left in limbo as swine flu vaccine supplies dry up

By Steve Nowottny

The Department of Health's distribution strategy for the swine flu vaccine has come under fire amid reports that a supply shortage has forced larger GP practices to put their vaccination campaigns on hold.

Each practice in England and Wales, regardless of size, has received or will shortly receive an initial delivery of 500 doses of the vaccine, with GPs able to order further deliveries from mid-November.

But surgeries with above-average list sizes are already struggling to keep pace with demand - leaving patients in some areas in limbo.

Dr Toby Davies, a GP in Tidworth, Wiltshire, said his practice had received its initial 500 doses last week, and was already running low.

‘We're irritated that small practices received the same number of vials as large practice,' he said. ‘We cannot order any more until 16 November and are told that deliveries will take one to two weeks from that date.'

‘As a result, we have had to delay our programme. The plan was to give 500 vaccines every Saturday morning, but clearly after this coming week we will run out and can't do any more until the end of the month. Meanwhile neighbouring singlehanded practices have 500 doses – probably more than they need.'

Dr Stephen Strange, a GP at a 24,000 patient practice in south Birmingham, said he was ‘absolutely gobsmacked' that all practices were receiving the same initial allocation regardless of size.

‘All of our 500 doses are already spoken for by patients,' he said, adding that his practice has had to ban all opportunistic vaccination of patients until it receives a second delivery of vaccine.

‘If there's been plenty of time to do planning surely there's plenty of time to realise a practice with 24,000 patients requires more vaccine than those with 2,000?'

Dr Strange said he had written to the Department of Health directly to ask why it had issued 500 doses per practice, pointing out that at a recent meeting neighbouring practices and PCT officials had both backed a more proportional distribution.

‘Locally, the PCT is saying this is ludicrous,' he said.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: 'The only fair way to get the limited stock we have to every surgery quickly was, initially, to send one box of vaccine to every GP. This way, patients who are most at risk can be targeted in every surgery. If we sent more boxes to one surgery, that would delay getting vaccine to everyone else.

'GPs should talk to their PCT to discuss arrangements moving forward so that, when we have more supplies, they can be distributed proportionally.'

Swine flu vaccination

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