Exclusive A third of practices have run out of flu vaccines or are running low, with some reporting they are having to borrow vaccines from other practices and have been struggling to replenish stocks, a Pulse survey has revealed.
Official figures have shown that this is the worst flu season in seven years, and at-risk patients have been urged to get vaccinated.
However, the Daily Telegraph reported that pharmacies were running out, and the Pulse survey of more than 400 GPs shows that practices are also beginning to run out.
GPs also criticised the Government’s handling of the flu season, with only 16% saying it was good, while 36% said it was ‘poor’.
Figures released last week found that there were 53.1 GP consultations for flu per 100,000 population during the second week of January. This is almost three times higher than the high point last winter, and is more than double the 24.2 ‘expected’ rate for the second week of January.
NHS England medical director Professor Sir Bruce Keogh and RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard last week co-signed a letter in which they urged GP practices to make sure the remaining three million eligible patients get their free flu jab injection.
The letter said: ’With flu levels continuing to rise, we are writing to ask for your help in ensuring that all your practices’ remaining stocks of vaccinations are used to immunise eligible patients in the next two weeks.
‘We appreciate the very real pressures you are under, but we only have a couple of weeks left to maximise the impact of the vaccine programme and nationally there are still over three million patients in target groups that could benefit from immunisation.’
Pulse’s figures show that one in 10 practices has already run out of vaccines, with a further 20% running low.
One GP told Pulse their practice ‘used 100 more than last year’ and was having to ’borrow from other practices’, while another said their practice had ‘used 95% and have sold 30 today to a local surgery who had run out’.
Professor Stokes-Lampard said: ‘We’re coming to the end of the flu vaccination season now, but for the next week or so we would encourage patients who are in at-risk groups, such as those with long-term conditions and pregnant women, who haven’t yet had their flu jab to get one.
‘It has certainly been a tough flu season so far – the last figures from the college’s Research and Surveillance Centre showed that over 30,000 patients presented with influenza-like-symptoms in general practice in a week.’
Many GPs were critical of the Government’s handling of the flu season, particularly focusing on the advice to buy cheaper trivalent vaccine rather than quadrivalent vaccine, which many people have said would be more effective.
London GP Dr Alan Campion said: ‘The quadrivalent versus trivalent debate was needed almost eight months ago when we ordered in.’
Dr Fiona MacRae, a GP in Northern Ireland, said more education was needed for patients. She added: ‘I have seen a lot of patients this year with flu who say they didn’t have the flu jab as either they “never get the flu”, “got really ill last time I had the flu jab” or heard that it didn’t work. This is particularly sad when a parent has not allowed their child to be immunised.
‘There needs to be a new, more creative campaign to educate the public on the morbidity and mortality of flu, the way the flu jab works, and to reinforce how to cough and sneeze in a way that doesn’t spread pathogens everywhere.’
A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘Vaccines are the best protection we have against flu. As well as getting the jab from a pharmacy, patients can also book an appointment with their GP.
‘As the public would expect we are in close contact with the vaccine manufacturers and can confirm that flu vaccine supplies continue to remain available.’
Survey results in full
Does your practice still have stocks of flu jabs?
Running low: 19%
Don’t know: 6%
What do you think of the Government’s handling of flu vaccinations this year?
The survey was launched on 19 January 2018. Respondents were put into a prize draw for a John Lewis hamper. A total of 444 GPs answered the questions