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GPs prevented from sharing flu vaccines as stocks run out

By Lilian Anekwe

Exclusive: GPs inundated with patients requesting flu jabs have been banned from sharing vaccine supplies with neighbouring practices, despite advice from the RCGP that they should.

It comes as the Department of Health admitted that there were shortages of flu vaccine in some areas, and GPs across the country told Pulse of their struggles to replenish dwindling supplies of flu vaccine.

The DH admitted there are ‘local supply issues' with flu vaccine, and have asked flu vaccine manufacturers to look to see if any more stocks can be supplied, to supplement the 14m already ordered and distributed to practices in the UK.

But the policy is clearly not helping to clarify an increasingly choatic situation on the ground, where in some areas PCTs are preventing practices from sharing supplies.

Dr Harry Yoxall, a GP in Taunton, Somerset, said: ‘The situation is currently difficult - more people are turning up and the availability of vaccine has been patchy, we don't have the vaccine at the moment.

‘Some practices have spare vaccines but we are being told by our PCTs that we aren't allowed to share the vaccine between practices because it is a breach of the pharmaceutical services regulations. It's a ridiculous situation where a practice that has plenty of supplies isn't able to share with practices that have none.'

Dr Yoxall said he had been told to issue patients prescriptions if his stocks run out, even if it costs the NHS more.

The RCGP also admitted GPs had had ‘local reports of vaccine shortages'. Dr Maureen Baker, health protection lead for the RCGP, said: ‘Colleagues are encouraged to share resources to liaise with local colleagues, or the PCT, and explore opportunities to make vaccine available in places where it is needed most.'

GPs on the frontline said they were being held back in their attempts to vaccinate at-risk patients by lack of supplies.

Dr Paddy Glackin, a GP in Camden, London, said: ‘We were very short on supplies last week. Supplies have been on and off throughout the season to be honest. We've been exceptionally low on stock at least twice over the season and we're very short at the moment – we've got 13 vaccines left.'

Dr Rob Barnett, a GP in Liverpool said: ‘We have no vaccines left, but I did hear today our PCT may have some more stock in soon.'

Shadow health secretary John Healey said: ‘This action is better late than never but will only add to the confusion over the Government's handling of the swine flu outbreak.

‘The health secretary has been slow to act at every stage and now his department is playing catch up.'

GPs in some areas are struggling to acquire flu vaccine stocks