GP practices had ‘more than enough time’ to place their orders for the new over-65s flu vaccine, NHS England has said.
As practices and pharmacies are still having to turn away patients due to problems securing stocks of the adjuvanted trivalent flu vaccine (aTIV), NHS England has suggested GPs are to blame for the mess, according to the Daily Mail.
The paper reported over the weekend that NHS England criticised doctors and pharmacists for failing to act quickly enough to switch stocks once the guidance went out that older patients should receive the new type of vaccine ahead of this winter’s flu season.
As previously reported by our sister publication Pulse, practices have had to delay vaccinating patients or refer them to pharmacists due to problems with securing flu vaccine stock.
The Government was also forced to temporary suspend medicines movement regulations to enable practices to swap vaccine stocks.
GPs were only told in January that they should order a different vaccine for the over-65s, at a time when most practices would have already put in their orders. They were given until the end of March to place their new orders with manufacturer Seqirus.
But Seqirus is only delivering the aTIV vaccine in a phased process, with 40% delivered in September, 20% in October and 40% in November, with GPs warning ahead of the vaccination season that they would run out between batches.
Despite this, NHS England told the Mail: ‘GPs and pharmacists had more than enough time to order the vaccine and were advised in March that they have a crucial role explaining to patients that there is enough vaccine supply available and when flu clinics will run.
‘Seqirus has confirmed all orders for the over 65 population will be delivered by the end of next week so everyone who needs the vaccine will get protected before December, when flu season usually hits.’
The BMA has called this year’s flu vaccine situation a ‘nightmare for GPs’, and asked NHS England to ensure the issues do not reoccur during the next flu season.
Commenting on the latest development, GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘Even with practices providing information to their older patients about the phased delivery of flu vaccinations this year, meaning 40% if supplies have still not been delivered to many practices, it’s no surprise that so many patients who are used to having their flu vaccine early in the autumn remain concerned.
‘Rather than unjustifiably criticising practices and pharmacists, NHS England should be supporting those on the frontline and stepping up the information they provide to patients directly.’
Dr Robert Morley, executive secretary of Birmingham LMC, said: ‘It’s an absolute disgrace but also absolutely typical that NHS England is yet again blaming GPs for another problem of its own making.’
Both supplier Seqirus and NHS England previously said that there had been a large increase in demand from practices and pharmacies for the vaccines compared with previous years and that it was ‘working as quickly as possible to respond’.
However official data from Public Health England has shown that the number of patients aged over 65 receiving the vaccine has dropped significantly this flu season compared with last year, amidst falling rates of uptake among all at-risk group.
Responding to an MP’s question about the ‘appropriateness of delivering aTIV to healthcare providers by mid-November’, public health minister Steve Brine said last week that ‘with appropriate planning, all eligible patients should be able to be offered vaccine before the flu season starts’.
Meanwhile, GPs in Scotland are having to restrict the use of the aTIV to over-75s after the Government failed to secure enough stock of the vaccine.
The UK’s main supplier of QIV, Sanofi Pasteur, was also hit by manufacturing issues, including problems with packaging, which delayed deliveries of the vaccine GPs are giving to 18-64-year-olds.
This story was first published on our sister publication Pulse.