GPs face an uphill battle to maintain uptake rates for flu vaccination this year after NHS bosses told the GPC they were likely to scrap the annual national publicity drive to support the campaign.
The GPC said that Public Health England had decided they were not recommending a national flu advertising campaign this year, due to a lack of evidence that the advertising campaign had any positive effect on seasonal flu take-up rates.
The move comes as GPs prepare to vaccinate two- and three- year olds for the first time and after the RCGP’s immunisation lead told Pulse that the 75% coverage target for all risk groups target could not be reached without a national flu campaign funded by the Goverment.
As part of its winter flu plan for 2013/14, NHS England, the Department of Health, Public Health England said that the evidence showed that while a national campaign might play a role in raising awareness of the vaccine, it had a ‘limited impact’ on uptake levels.
It said: ‘Such a campaign cannot therefore replace proactive and personalised invitations from GPs to patients. GP practices therefore need to plan carefully to ensure that they are making every effort to identify and contact eligible patients before the flu season starts, and use any available ‘free’ communications channels to promote the vaccination message (such as the electronic booking system or patient newsletters).’
It added that centrally produced communication materials, such as leaflets, will be made available via NHS Choices, DH, PHE and NHS Comms Link websites and that GP practices may wish to use these materials as part of their awareness campaigns.
GPs should use their communication channels to educate patients about respiratory and hand hygiene throughout the flu season, by adding respiratory and hand hygiene footnote to all patient letters, emails, electronic booking systems and so forth, it said.
This month’s GPC News said that it had been told the advertising campaign was not going to be held this year. A spokesperson from the BMA confirmed that this was the case to Pulse.
It said: ‘Due to lack of evidence that advertising campaigns have any positive effect on seasonal flu take-up rates, Public Health England has decided against having an national flu campaign this year.
‘Their research found that whilst seasonal flu advertising did raise awareness of the vaccine it did not motivate people to get vaccinated.
‘It found the biggest positive influence on seasonal flu vaccine uptake was a recommendation from a health care practitioner, be that in person, via letter or telephone.’
A spokesperson from Public Health England said that it was still reviewing the plans for this year’s flu campaign.
She said: ‘We can confirm that seasonal flu advertising does raise awareness of the vaccine and that personal recommendation from a healthcare professional is one of the biggest motivators to get vaccinated.
‘Plans for this year’s national flu campaign are currently under review by the Department of Health, NHS England and Public Health England.’
This story was amended on 2nd August after Pulse was informed that there was an error in the GPC’s newsletter. The newsletter said NHS England had recommended the national flu publicity campaign should not be run this year. In fact, this was a recommendation by Public Health England.