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GPs fear having to turn away ‘angry’ 50-64s for flu jabs

GPs fear they may have to turn ‘angry’ patients in their 50s and 60s away from their practices if their expectations about being offered a free flu jab are not met.

This week, NHS England published an updated GP flu letter outlining its plans for this year’s expanded vaccination programme.

The letter said that the new cohort of people aged 50-64 will not be eligible until November at the earliest, and only subject to stock availability.

But Kent LMC medical secretary Dr John Allingham told Pulse that he is concerned patients may not be aware of this, leading to practices ‘swamped with angry patients’ who expect access to a free jab.

He said: ‘My concern with the 50-60s is they have all been told via the media that they will be offered a flu jab. 

‘The fact that they can’t get it until November and then only if there is spare vaccine has not been publicised, so surgeries will be swamped with angry patients wanting their jabs.’

Dr Allingham added that there is a ‘risk’ that some of those in the new cohort ‘will miss out’ due to the tight turnaround for practices to deliver the programme, which is targeting 30 million people this year.

He said: ‘It is going to be extremely difficult to target all the normal at-risk groups by the end of October so there is a risk that some of these people will miss out as there will inevitably be an overlap between the ‘at risk’ and the 50-60s.’

In its latest live GP webinar, NHS England admitted that practices are already fielding queries from patients in their 50s and 60s ‘trying to book their vaccination’.

NHS England deputy director for general practice strategy and contracts Katie Cusick said: ‘I know some practices have mentioned they are already getting people over 50 coming or contacting them trying to book their vaccination. 

‘I appreciate it’s difficult but we do just need to give the message that they’re not currently eligible but they will be contacted at the point they do become eligible under the scheme and will be invited for vaccination then.’

She added: ‘The flu letter is clear that the ambition is to add that cohort in November and December, once we are confident there is sufficient vaccine supply.’

NHS England’s letter said: ‘We aim to further extend the vaccine programme in November and December to include the 50-64 year-old age group subject to vaccine supply.

‘This extension is being phased to allow you to prioritise those in at-risk groups first.’

It further added that flu jabs ‘might be offered’ to those between 50 and 64 under the 2020/21 programme ‘following prioritisation of other eligible groups and subject to vaccine supply’.

Meanwhile, attendees at the webinar called for official communications or a TV campaign ‘explaining to the new cohorts of patients when and how [they will be vaccinated] and not to contact practices’.

One anonymous attendee posted in the Q&A section: ‘When will comms be issued via the press to the public explaining that the 50-64 year olds aren’t guaranteed a flu vaccine?’

An NHS England moderator replied that ‘this will be via the DHSC’ and that NHS England has ‘reflected these points’.

Concerns have already been raised regarding stocks of vaccine and NHS England said it is ‘expecting increased demand for flu vaccine across all cohorts’.

It reiterated that the Government will issue guidance in September on how to access additional national supply of the adult vaccine, with Pulse previously revealing that GPs will be expected to use their own stocks in the first instance.

The DHSC has previously told Pulse that there will be enough stock to vaccinate over 30m people, but not ‘everybody’.

This year, NHS England is targeting 75% uptake of flu vaccinations in at-risk groups, as well as those aged over 50, shielded patients and their households and all school year groups up to Year 7.

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