Nearly 70% of GPs have experienced a shortage of the new over-65s flu vaccine, forcing them to turn away vulnerable older patients as a result.
In a Pulse survey of 650 GPs, 68.5% said their practice suffered a shortage of adjuvanted trivalent flu vaccine (aTIV) that has been recommended for patients aged over 65 this year, with only 20% saying they had no trouble securing the vaccine.
Around a quarter of GPs have also suffered a shortage of the quadrivalent vaccine (QIV), recommended for patients in the 18-64 age group.
The GPs surveyed said that it meant they were unable to vaccinate as many elderly patients as they would have liked.
Manufacturer Seqirus is only delivering the aTIV vaccine in a phased process, with 40% delivered in September, 20% in October and 40% in November, with GPs warning ahead of the vaccination season that they would run out between batches.
This has resulted in practices having to delay vaccinating patients or refer them to pharmacists due to problems with securing flu vaccine stock.
Practices have been told by NHS England that all flu vaccines will be delivered by 17 November 2018.
But the BMA has called this year’s flu vaccine situation a ‘nightmare for GPs’, and asked NHS England to ensure the issues do not reoccur during the next flu season.
But NHS England has blamed GPs, claiming that practices had ‘more than enough time’ to place their orders.
Dr Melanie Blackman, a GP from Wiltshire said: ‘Failed delivery times – delayed by two weeks, resulting in us having to cancel or move 170+ appointments. We now have no stock of the Fluad and more people to immunise despite ordering 100 more than we have last year for that age group.’
Dr John Hughes, a GP in Worcestershire, said: ‘We book the village hall every year for our flu day. We had to change the date because of vaccine availability. Thankfully the clinic hadn’t been fully booked at that point, so it was straightforward to contact patients. But it had an impact on availability of staff for the flu day who had already made plans. Consequently we were understaffed for our Saturday flu clinic.’
Dr Marie Williams, a GP from Blackpool said: ‘It has been a complete debacle, wasting practice and patient time. To add insult to injury, patients have been complaining that it’s the practice’s fault when clinics appointments have been sent our in good faith and supplies ordered in plenty of time.’
Dr Paul Evans, a GP from Durham said: ‘We have had patients go to the pharmacy due to this delay, losing us a lot of money.’
Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair, said: ‘We know there is understandable frustration among GPs and patients alike because of the disruption caused by the phased delivery of this year’s vaccine recommended for over-65s.
‘Previously, many patients will have been used to receiving their vaccination on demand from their GP or pharmacist, but because of the phased delivery, this has not been possible this year.
‘However, with the next delivery of vaccines expected this month, we have been assured that there are adequate supplies to vaccinate all those who need it and patients should be encouraged to make an appointment to get protected for the winter.
‘As practices begin planning for next year, NHS England must learn lessons from the disruption seen in the past weeks. Adequate notice and guidance to all practices must be given well in advance of the ordering period, to allow both practices and manufacturers to ensure there are no further supply problems for next year. Improving information for the public would also be beneficial.’
An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘This survey of little more than 1% of GPs ignores the fact that this week, 100% of vaccines will have been delivered by the manufacturer to those surgeries and pharmacists who placed an order on time, so the public can be assured that – as the BMA has confirmed – there is sufficient supply of the vaccine in stock for everyone to get protected ahead of winter.’
A Seqirus spokesperson said: ‘By the end of this week we will have completed the third and final phase of the delivery plan agreed with NHS England earlier this year.
‘Our second and third phase deliveries included extra stock that we were able to make available, taking total supply of Fluad [aTIV] across the UK this season to 9.8m doses.’
Both supplier Seqirus and NHS England previously said that there had been a large increase in demand from practices and pharmacies for the vaccines compared with previous years and that it was ‘working as quickly as possible to respond’.
Recent official data from Public Health England has shown that the number of patients aged over 65 receiving the vaccine has dropped significantly this flu season compared with last year, amidst falling rates of uptake among all at-risk group.