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37 million flu over the cuckoo’s nest

The Government had been hinting at it for a few weeks, but the sheer scale of the flu programme this winter came as a shock. Around 37 million people – around two-thirds of England’s population – are eligible for a free flu jab this winter. The aim is to vaccinate 30 million, double the 15 million vaccinated last year.

I understand the thinking. Covid will still be around this winter. If it is possible to control flu numbers, then that will only help relieve the pressure on the NHS.

But this feels like another ‘common sense’ policy that pays no heed to the nuance. And the nuance is that this will be a logistical nightmare, with GPs in the middle of it. We are approaching August, the vaccines have already been ordered and even with the more modest targets originally planned, suppliers are already struggling. The Government’s words are not encouraging – they expect GPs to use ‘existing stocks’ to vaccinate these extra patients.

This feels like another ‘common sense’ policy that pays no heed to nuance

On top of this, there is no guidance as yet about how GPs and other providers will administer this while social distancing remains in place – which it almost certainly will. Even if GPs do get the stocks, where is the time/manpower to do this, especially with a winter approaching that will be challenging to say the least? The advance announcement has already given practices a taste of things to come with patients already phoning for clarification.

And this is to say nothing about the implications for practice finance, especially regarding QOF requirements.

It’s been almost a week since this was announced, and we are still awaiting plans from NHS England. This concerns me, because the logistics should have been finalised before the announcement was made – there should be no reason for this delay. And GPs need to know now.