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Government review could strip GPs of flu vaccine procurement role

By Lilian Anekwe

The RCGP has warned against a central procurement system for flu vaccines, after the Department of Health announced a review of current procedures allowing GPs to order their own supply.

The review comes after GPs faced mounting criticism over their response to this year's flu season, with one expert accusing the profession of being ‘professionally incompetent' for not ensuring they have adequate supplies of vaccine to cope with demand.

The RCGP hit back after the health secretary decided to review current procedures where GPs in England and Wales order their own flu vaccine, following advice from the Department of Health.

Professor David Salisbury, the DH director of immunisation, said: ‘I think we are satisfied with the cycle and the timing of the ordering. But the secretary of state has agreed that we should review what the best way to procure seasonal flu vaccine is.'

Speaking on BBC Radio 5 over the weekend, Prime Minister David Cameron said it was important to review procedures to tackle outbreaks in future years.

‘I think one of the lessons is that it looks likely that, because of the prevalence of swine flu and other strains, we might have quite significant outbreaks in future years. We need to look at the way we order vaccinations and whether more needs to be done.'

But responding to the comments, Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of GPs, dismissed the idea of centrally ordering flu vaccines.

'I can't see how any system that claims to be centrally run, could be more accurate that 10,000 practices each estimating what they require.

'I can't for the life of me see how a national system could be more accurate than that,' she told the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

The Department of Health admitted to difficulties in delivering vaccine to practices and that some areas have been hampered by ‘local supply issues', but had denied this was a national problem and stepped in to secure additional stocks from UK flu vaccine manufacturers.

The review comes after GPs came under fire from flu experts. Professor Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen and one of Britain's leading experts on infectious disease, blamed the outbreak on a lack of action by the Government and a failure to order sufficient stocks of the vaccine by GPs.

‘GPs and midwives have been professionally incompetent. It's crazy that they haven't prepared for the flu season. It really is unacceptable that people aren't getting the vaccine for administrative reasons. It shows poor planning and insufficient awareness on their parts.'

He told Pulse: 'The indications were that this was going to be the worst season in 10 years and it should have been more of a priority for GPs and the Department of Health. What has been done has been done too late.

'I think the DH has to take a fairly large chunk of responsibility for that as well. Flu has tested the system and the system has been found wanting.'

GPs have struggled to vaccinate all eligible patients against flu