GP practices were ‘flooded’ with calls after the Government’s announcement that those aged 50-64 will be eligible for free flu jabs from December.
The Government made the announcement to the public on Friday.
But GPs criticised the communication, saying they should have been informed how to order vaccine stock first.
Speaking at a press conference on Friday, health secretary Matt Hancock told the public: ‘Your GP will contact you – don’t call them.’
But despite this, GPs were left fielding calls from patients wanting to book their flu vaccination, creating ‘significant’ workload for many practices.
And GP leaders warned of uncertainty that there ‘may not be enough vaccine to go around’.
Nottingham GP partner Dr Hussain Gandhi told Pulse: ‘Unfortunately, it’s a case of really poor communication we’re seeing from the Department of Health yet again. It’s created a significant amount of workload for many practices.
‘I’ve got lots of colleagues who have been telling me that their phones have just been [ringing] off the hook with people saying “I want to book in for my flu vaccination” [but] practices don’t have their stock.’
He added: ‘There doesn’t appear to be at this point any clear idea of how much stock we can order or what volume – those kinds of details are still awaited. Practices themselves know as much as the headlines say, which is clearly not effective in terms of trying to deliver this.’
And practices have concerns about how the new cohort can be vaccinated alongside the Covid vaccination campaign, which is due to start as soon as the MHRA approves a vaccine for delivery and could also launch before Christmas, Dr Gandhi said.
He told Pulse: ‘It’s possible with staggering, but what we didn’t need is obviously a flood of people calling us at a time when we’re already crazy busy.’
Other GPs took to Twitter to express frustration at their ‘swamped’ phone lines, including Cotswolds GP partner Dr Mark Porter, St Helens GP trainer and Mersey RCGP faculty chair Professor Steve Cox and Ross-on-Wye GP Dr Simon Lennane.
Mid Mersey LMC medical secretary Dr Ivan Camphor warned of ‘issues’ around supply and uncertainty around delivery dates, with some practices being told they wouldn’t get deliveries until mid-December.
He told Pulse: ‘It seems that some practices have managed to get some supplies already, but others have tried to ring up to get some and I’ve been told there are issues with it and they can’t get it.
‘Some people are saying it could be the 15 December before we get any supply. Nobody has been given a definite delivery date and there are some concerns that there may not be enough vaccine to go around.’
Former chairman of Solihull LMC Dr Peter Scott added that his practice too was ‘having problems’ securing deliveries of extra stock for the new cohort.
He said: ‘We’re going to need potentially another few hundred and we haven’t heard yet how assured that supply is.’
It comes as MPs were this month warned that three-quarters of GPs are struggling to access enough flu vaccine stock.
Meanwhile, Dr Gandhi added that it’s a ‘likely possibility’ that patients needing medical attention couldn’t get through due to the strain on practice phone lines.
He said: ‘We put messages on our social media channels asking patients not to call about the 50-64 vaccinations because we just don’t have any information to give them and that could potentially block someone else from contacting us that needs medical support. How are we supposed to deal with that if our phones are [ringing] off the hook?’
Both Kent LMC medical secretary Dr John Allingham and BMA GP Committee regional representative for Birmingham & Solihull Dr Robert Morley tweeted similar concerns.
Many other practices reached out to patients in the new cohort to dissuade them from calling to book flu jabs, including The Whickham Practice in Newcastle.
And in some areas, commissioners also asked patients for ‘patience’ regarding the vaccine.
NHS Vale of York CCG this week said patients aged 50-64 should ‘wait to hear from their GP surgeries about a vaccine appointment’ as practices ‘need time to plan and order the vaccinations’.
NHS North Yorkshire CCG governing body GP, Dr Bruce Willoughby, added: ‘Everyone in this new cohort of patients will be contacted by their practice in due course, and we ask for patience while new supplies of vaccine are ordered for December onwards.’
On Friday, NHS England’s London team also said patients who are not in the at-risk groups should ‘wait until you are invited by your practice to come forward for your flu vaccine’.
A DHSC spokesperson said: ‘There have been regular communications with the GMC and BMA on delivering the flu vaccine this season.
‘We provided guidance on ordering extra supplies of vaccine to GPs in October and further deliveries of the phased vaccine supply will be arriving throughout November, December and into the New Year.’
They reiterated that those aged 50-64 should wait to be contacted by their practice to arrange an appointment.
The Government is targeting 30 million people in this year’s expanded flu vaccination campaign, with a larger number of patients having been made eligible for free flu jabs.
NHS England has said GP practices should prepare to deliver flu jabs to eligible cohorts until February next year to ‘ensure all cohorts are covered’.
GPs have already exceeded last year’s flu vaccination rates, despite worries around supply – which led to new restrictions on the export of flu vaccine supplies to protect UK supply.
Additional reporting by Eleanor Philpotts