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Central flu vaccine procurement will reduce GP income, warns BMA

by Eliza Parr
14 July 2023

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The BMA has raised concerns that Wales’ incoming centralised procurement model for flu vaccines could result in less income for GP practices.

Last month in the Senedd, health minister Eluned Morgan set out her commitment to introduce a centralised procurement system in order to have a better overview of the exact number of flu vaccines across Wales. 

Currently, many GPs in Wales procure flu vaccinations themselves, and the minister said a new centralised system will address the issue of GPs ‘sometimes’ under-procuring.

However, the BMA has said this new model ‘will mean that GPs are unable to negotiate discounts on vaccine procurement with suppliers,’ which would result in a loss of potential profit per jab administered.

This profit can then be ‘reinvested in other areas of the practice’, according to a spokesperson for BMA Wales. 

The health minister was questioned on the BMA’s concerns last month by members of the Senedd Russell George and Mabon ap Gwynfor.

Mr Gwynfor said: ‘When similar plans were introduced in Scotland, the Government there provided £5 million in order to support GP practices so that they could convert to the centralised system.’ 

He said the minister had given no sense of ‘how much money or what kind of support and what kind of budget will be available for GPs to help them in the process of transitioning to the new system’.

Ms Morgan responded that centralising procurement makes sense because negotiating a price for 3.1 million people will get a ‘better price’ than if negotiating for just 30,000. 

She added: ‘But this isn’t just about money. What we’ve learned from the pandemic is that we had someone in the Welsh Government who knew exactly how many vials were available in every part of Wales, and having that overview meant that we could move things around the system when we needed to do that. 

‘So, I do see that that does mean that you take some power away from the local GPs, but I think that the provision on the whole for Wales, well, it does make sense for us to follow that path.’

While the minister did not confirm whether she was in talks with the BMA about this potential loss of GP income, a spokesperson for the union it is ‘in discussion with the Welsh Government civil servants around how this can be mitigated’.

The spokesperson also said: ‘We are aware in the coming 23/24 season the minister has not decided whether healthy 50-64 year olds are to be vaccinated, so GPs were expressly told not to order for them by Welsh Government.  

‘GPs carry personal risk for ordering and any unused stock outside of sale or return would essentially be a cost to the contractor – therefore a timely decision is welcome.’

Mr Gwynfor raised this same issue in the Senedd and countered Ms Morgan’s argument that GPs sometimes ‘under-procure’ flu vaccinations, saying BMA Wales is not ‘aware of any significant shortages’ due to GP procurement.

On the vaccinations for 50 to 64-year-olds, the member said: ‘We have to bear in mind that if there were to be a change in the Minister’s thinking on this issue now, then there would be a shortage of flu jabs this year as a result of that advice.’ 

The minister responded by saying ‘money is tight at the present’, and this age group has a lower risk of contracting flu so the Government must instead focus its support ‘on those who are the most vulnerable’.

In England, low-risk 50 to 64-year-olds have not been included in this year’s flu vaccination campaign, having been eligible only as part of a temporary expansion during the pandemic.

Last summer, Management in Practice reported that some Welsh GP practices would not be delivering Covid boosters in the autumn because they were not able to co-administer the booster with flu vaccinations.

A version of this story first appeared in our sister title Pulse