Exclusive Over half of GP practices were left with unused flu vaccine at the end of this year’s flu season following the last-minute introduction of a national pharmacy scheme that encouraged patients to get their flu jabs from their pharmacist, a Pulse survey has revealed.
The survey also found a third of all partners said their practice also lost out financially as a result of wasted vaccine – in some cases by thousands of pounds – as they were unable to negotiate a refund from their supplier on unused stock.
The national pharmacy flu vaccination scheme was introduced by NHS England for the 2015/16 seasonal flu vaccination campaign, but was only announced just two months before the start of the flu season in July.
This led to outcry from GP leaders who warned it would take work away from practices and risked them being out of pocket from unused vaccine that they could not return, as well as through lost vaccination fees and extra administration.
The Pulse survey found that out of 504 GP respondents, over half – 284 (56%) – said they were left with extra unused flu vaccine at the end of last flu season. Many commented that this resulted directly from the late introduction of the pharmacy scheme.
In addition, 168 GPs (33% of the total number of respondents) said they were out of pocket as a result of having left-over vaccine.
Some GPs reported they had been left with several hundreds of doses and lost thousands of pounds, because they were not able to negotiate a return on all unused stock with the vaccine supplier.
Dr Jonathan Ring, a GP partner in Huddersfield, told Pulse his practice had lost around £2,500 from unused flu vaccine as the practice could only return 10%. He estimated they had lost around £5,000 in total this year taking into account extra administration costs.
Dr Ring said: ‘We have wasted literally thousands in both ordering unneeded flu jabs and recalling and chasing patients who unbeknown to us had already had their jabs via the pharmacy.’
In Essex, another GP partner reported losing around £3,000 after being left with 400 unused flu shots.
Dr George Kassianos, RCGP lead on immunisation, and a GP partner in Wokingham, told Pulse this reflected experience at his practice.
Dr Kassianos said: ‘We did our very best with open days and opportunistic vaccinations but were disappointed at the end to see we were left with a huge number of unused vaccines, largely representing the flu vaccine doses the six pharmacists around us must have given.
‘For this year we have reduced our order of flu vaccine by 50% and reduced the number of vaccine providers from four to two. I am struggling to keep up the team’s enthusiasm for vaccinating but the feeling is that GP practices were undermined by the sudden move last year, resulting in huge losses because of left over vaccine in the practice fridges.’
The controversial pharmacy flu scheme
NHS England recently gave the go-ahead for the pharmacy scheme for the 2016/17 flu season, despite the GPC warning that it should not be recommissioned unless there was any sign of improved uptake.
NHS England has insisted that the scheme offers patients more flexibility and picks up more ‘hard to reach’ patients, so helping to boost vaccination coverage, but official data indicate that vaccine uptake fell across all the at-risk target groups last season, and the GPC has warned it has disrupted established flu clinics and cost practices as much as £4m in lost vaccine payments.
Some local GP leaders reported that pharmacists were competing aggressively for practices’ usual patients, creating confusion and extra paperwork in the process.
Commenting on the survey findings, Dr Andrew Green, chair of the GPC’s clinical and prescribing subcommittee, said: ‘It is of deep regret that these practices have been deprived of the resources they need to provide patient care by the introduction of this scheme without any notice period or negotiation, and it provides a good example of the adverse consequences that can happen when care is fragmented.
‘Hopefully these practices will have been able to adjust their orders for this year, though as we have previously said this will make full patient protection in the event of an epidemic harder to achieve.’
NHS England declined to respond to Pulse’s query on whether it would pay compensation to GP practices for the wasted vaccines.
However, an NHS England spokesperson said: ‘We expect our early announcement on the recommissioning of the Community Pharmacy Seasonal Influenza Vaccination programme for 2016/17 will benefit GP practices when it comes to preparing stocks, placing orders and help to avoid any unnecessary costs. We will continue to review and evaluate the scheme.
‘GPs and pharmacies can also arrange “sale or return” arrangements independently or utilise group purchasing schemes to save costs.’
Survey results in full
Has your practice been left with unused flu vaccine after this year’s campaign? (Partners only)
Yes: 56% (284)
No: 35% (175)
Don’t know: 9% (45)
Has your practice lost money as a result of unused flu vaccine? (Only those who answed yes to the first question)
Yes: 59% (168)
No: 22% (64)
Don’t know: 19% (52)
The survey was launched on 28 April 2016, collating responses using the SurveyMonkey tool. The 24 questions asked covered a wide range of GP topics, to avoid selection bias on one issue. The survey was advertised to readers via our website and email newsletter, with a prize draw for a Samsung HD TV as an incentive to complete the survey. A total of 504 GPs answered the first question, and 285 answered the follow-up question.