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On your marks for the annual flu jab race



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As I sit at my desk ready to start morning surgery and look at the list of patients booked in, my heart sinks to see the mix of young women and teenagers that will fill my morning. The disappointment becomes bitter when I glance at my colleague’s morning list – COPD, diabetes, CKD, average age at least 75. Damn it! I am going to lose.

This is the annual flu jab race. It isn’t about QOF, it isn’t about targets, it is about professional pride. The delivery of vaccine supplies to the surgery brings the competitive nature of our staff to the fore. Doctors face off against nurses as we each try to deliver the most flu inoculations every day, totting up our totals for the week as we go. It’s a marathon of course – it’s pointless having one good day then taking your eyes off the prize – but it’s also a sprint. Nothing intimidates your opponents than seeing you repeatedly rush to the fridge for fresh supplies during morning surgery.

A quick halftime orange at the end of the appointments, then I’m looking at my visits and mentally counting how many doses I’ll need in my bag. In goes the enormous portable sharps bin, and I loudly and confidently ask for 10 more injections to take with me. I feel like I’m on a roll – until my colleague casually says: ‘Think I’ll pop in to The Elms on my way back after lunch, just for an impromptu ward round…’ Aarrggghh! He’s going to clock up a whole care home if I’m not careful. I quickly change my heels for running shoes and dash out of the surgery.

First house, both husband and wife vaccinated. ‘But doc,’ the man calls out as I race down the path, ‘what about my legs?’

Our annual delivery of flu vaccines brings the competitive nature of the staff to the fore

‘Legs are no good if you get the flu!,’ I call out as I head off, pleased with my improvised health promotion message.

Second house lets me down, only one eligible patient. I’m tempted to extol the virtues of flu prevention for dogs but thoughts of explaining that to the GMC hold me back.

Third visit – jackpot. A whole extended family registered with us, visiting Aunt Mildred. I get Mildred, her husband, her brother and sister-in-law and the teenage grandchild with asthma. For good measure, I do the cat – I mean, cat flu is a thing, right? And I like them less than dogs…

Back at the surgery I count the notes and empty boxes back in. The nursing home had a day trip to Blackpool so there were hardly any candidates for my colleague to jab. I do a discreet fist pump and head into afternoon surgery.

This is my work life at the moment. While I know general practice is far from high-octane drama every day, it’s good to inject a bit of competition and excitement every now and then. Who knew the flu jab season could be so much fun? I realise this might seem a bit desperate but, seriously, try it. I do wonder if the Lycra shorts and that running track painted down the corridor might be taking things a bit far, but it sets a good example to patients to see their clinicians being active, surely?

And maybe if we’re lucky, the novelty factor will persuade them to come to us instead of the local pharmacy…

Dr Zoe Norris is a GP in Hull