Thousands of GPs across the country appear to have fallen short of uptake targets for the swine flu vaccination campaign, leaving many facing even bigger losses than last year in the next round of the Government's controversial patient access survey.
The latest figures indicate that many practices in areas where the first phase of the campaign is now complete are still well behind the target of vaccinating 50.7% or more patients in the priority group of at-risk patients aged between six months and 65 years.
In Scotland, where most health boards have now finished phase one of the vaccination campaign, figures released for the end of December by the Health Protection Scotland show uptake among patients in the priority group was just 45.8 per cent.
If practices fail to hit the target they will miss out on the Department of Health's offer to grant a 10 per cent drop in the upper and 20 per cent drop in the lower thresholds of PE7 and PE8 in the Ipsos MORI survey.
With GPs having faced a huge workload to try to hit the target - many reporting a major impact on routine work - it seems likely the vaccination campaign will dent still further practice income based on the Government's access drive, which links QOF pay to patient views and last year cost practices millions in lost income.
Uptake of the swine flu vaccine in Scotland is even lower in other at-risk groups, standing at 38.1 per cent among at-risk individuals aged over 65 years and 45.1 per cent for pregnant women.
The latest uptake figures for England, published on 17 December, showed three million doses of the vaccine had been administered to at risk patients, including 101,000 pregnant women and 343,000 front line health care staff.
Some practices in England have now also completed the first phase of the swine flu vaccination campaign. NHS South West said before Christmas that some GPs in its area were now focussing solely on vaccinating the under-fives.
A spokesperson for the DH said: ‘We are encouraged by these figures as vaccination has only been taking place over the last eight weeks. The programme continues.'
But if GPs do fail to hit the target it will back the scepticism of GPs reported repeatedly by Pulse about the vaccination target.
In November a snapshot survey of more than 100 GPs found only 37% of GPs believed the Government's 50.7% target was achievable.
A subsequent Pulse survey of GPs before Christmas found two thirds still felt that the target would not be hit.The first phase of the swine flu vaccination campaign is drawing to a close in some areas The first phase of the swine flu vaccination campaign is drawing to a close in some areas