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Independents' Day

37 million flu over the cuckoo’s nest

Editor’s blog

The Government had been hinting at it for a few weeks, but the sheer scale of the flu programme this winter came as a shock. Around 37 million people – around two-thirds of England’s population – are eligible for a free flu jab this winter. The aim is to vaccinate 30 million, double the 15 million vaccinated last year.

I understand the thinking. Covid will still be around this winter. If it is possible to control flu numbers, then that will only help relieve the pressure on the NHS.

But this feels like another ‘common sense’ policy that pays no heed to the nuance. And the nuance is that this will be a logistical nightmare, with GPs in the middle of it. We are approaching August, the vaccines have already been ordered and even with the more modest targets originally planned, suppliers are already struggling. The Government’s words are not encouraging – they expect GPs to use ‘existing stocks’ to vaccinate these extra patients.

This feels like another ‘common sense’ policy that pays no heed to nuance

On top of this, there is no guidance as yet about how GPs and other providers will administer this while social distancing remains in place – which it almost certainly will. Even if GPs do get the stocks, where is the time/manpower to do this, especially with a winter approaching that will be challenging to say the least? The advance announcement has already given practices a taste of things to come with patients already phoning for clarification.

And this is to say nothing about the implications for practice finance, especially regarding QOF requirements.

It’s been almost a week since this was announced, and we are still awaiting plans from NHS England. This concerns me, because the logistics should have been finalised before the announcement was made – there should be no reason for this delay. And GPs need to know now.

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Readers' comments (3)

  • We can only hope
    1) UKG thought this through before announcing it via the media (& then telling the profession)
    2) there are enough jabs to fulfill the promise
    3) we get guidance on what level of PPE is required
    4) the extra vaccines - if there are enough - arrive early enough in the season to be worthwhile

    On a positive note far fewer cases in Australia this flu season - probably due to social distancing and better hand washing....

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  • Vinci Ho

    Looking at this matter from a political point of view :
    (1) The government ‘pledge’ if an expanded flu campaign is not different from previous promises e.g. 5000 more GPs , 100,000 Covid testings during the first wave (arguably we are still in it) . The numbers of U-turns , including in other political issues , have become its own political norm .
    (2) One difference this time round is the government being seen as ‘really prepared’ for the winter pressure plus a potential second spike ( I am conscious many academics do not currently support the terminology ‘second wave’ with no precise definition) of Covid 19.While its credibility is in tatters , the government is running out of gas as far as its spin-machineries for NHS are concerned . They desperately need ‘results’ .
    (3) We all know how chaotic flu vaccination campaign had been last few years . Contentious provision of pharmacies to administer flu vaccines ,delayed supplies and poor government effort to encourage the pubic have dogged previous campaigns. The net phenomenon was the overall uptakes of flu vaccines were significantly reduced . In reality , the public is wanting a Covid 19 vaccine and not necessarily interested in flu ones .
    (4) The logistics for mass administration(practically doubling the amount of qualified patient population) of flu vaccines this year will undoubtedly challenge the principle of social distancing. Many small GP practices have only one entrance in-and-out. How often PPE should be changed remains a conundrum. Without proper education and reassurance, I am anxious many patients would be reluctant to queue up outside surgeries for the jab .
    (5) Typically , like every year , we are talking about these concerns in late July as summer break begins in August. I understand that people are desperate to get away after this plight of Covid lockdown. Politicians would like to see themselves of no exception( though reality tells a different story when we found our ‘poor’ Transport Secretary stuck in quarantine) . There is usually very little political activities in August .I am afraid documentation of these concerns ,particularly in logistics , are to collect dust until September .

    Once our patients (particularly children ) start presenting with cough and cold +/- fever from September, we will have to face the reality of dividing ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ (or red and green) patients once more . Yes , telephone triaging can go so far but not entirely . Reducing incidence of influenza is certainly helpful but I am not holding my breath for a ‘successful’ flu campaign led by the government.
    More than happy someone can prove me wrong.....

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  • our nurses say they can manage 20/hr as they insist on washing their hands after each patient. we have 8k patients eligible. That works out at 100 4 hour clinics on top of normal work. (Plus losing nurses due to extreme hand dermatitis).
    The world is going bonkers.....

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