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Three-quarters of GPs struggling to get enough flu vaccines, finds survey

by Awil Mohamoud
9 November 2020

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More than three quarters (78%) of GPs have faced ‘limited access’ to enough flu vaccine stock during this year’s programme, according to a Doctor’s Association UK (DAUK) survey. 

In the campaign group’s survey of almost 900 UK GPs, 42% said they had faced some difficulties in vaccinating patients this season. 

While flu stock shortages were cited by GPs as the biggest issue (78%), a further 38% reported struggling to find enough staff to keep on top of both the flu service and routine clinical work.

Another 22% said they did not feel able to safely deliver vaccinations due to issues with premises and social distancing guidelines, and 21% were experiencing competition with local pharmacies.

Some GPs (8%) also said patients had been ‘unwilling’ to attend the practice to get their jab. 

Some survey respondents commented on the ‘mammoth task of arranging drive-through’ clinics, and the associated venue hire and personnel costs, including for overtime which they could not claim a reimbursement for. 

Others said ‘confusing messages’ from the Government about the cohort eligible for flu vaccinations has led to patients ‘getting angry at the surgery’, with some even directing ‘abuse’ and making ‘formal complaints’ because under 65 vaccines are not yet available.

One practice manager recently told Management in Practice her staff faced ‘aggressive tones and swearing’ from patients following similar issues.

Further support needed

The survey, which looked at the state of primary care, also found that 55% of GPs are worried they might not have access to adequate PPE during the second wave of Covid-19, while 52% feel their current premises are unsuitable for catering to both Covid and non-Covid patients simultaneously. 

More than three-quarters (78%) said the pandemic had negatively impacted their mental health, and 48% said they felt ‘unsupported’ by NHS England, with only 2% saying they have been ‘well’ or ‘very well’ supported. 

The DAUK presented the survey findings in a cross-party briefing on 3 November, which involved representatives from the Conservatives and Labour, as well as various smaller parties.

The briefing made six policy recommendations to the group of MPs and peers:

1) A commitment to urgent ring-fenced funding for primary care in line with that provided to acute trusts.

2) An urgent review of the Public Health England PPE guidelines and revision to be in line with WHO recommendations and an urgent review of PPE stockpiles with provision for primary care/

3) Urgent recognition of the issue of digital deprivation and a review of support needed for the most deprived areas to ensure that the most vulnerable patients are able to access services.

4) Ring-fenced funding for 24-hour mental health support for all NHS workers, including primary care staff across the devolved nations.

5) Urgent action on lack of access to flu vaccinations, and a cash injection to ensure GPs can carry out a Covid vaccination programme, if and when required

6) MP support to combat the damaging narrative that GPs have not been open during the pandemic.

‘Staff are valued and appreciated’

Dr Vinesh Patel, GP partner and DAUK committee member said: ‘Following our roundtable meeting with MPs on Tuesday, we are proud to have been able to raise the issues highlighted by primary care staff respondents in our survey. 

‘We discussed issues such as the mental health of staff, rising workloads, the GP-bashing within the media and the importance of primary care in this pandemic, and we are confident that we will be able to work together to tackle these issues going forward.’

Dr Nikki Kanani MBE, NHS England’s primary care medical director, said: ‘We want to take this opportunity to thank our staff and colleagues across primary care for everything they have done throughout the pandemic. We want to thank those working late into night – chasing advice, checking on shielded patients, reassuring your patients. We want to say thank you for the amazing work you’ve done in delivering flu vaccinations in new ways, in car parks, at weekends and in the pouring rain.

‘We know teams are feeling tired, and we know that they are doing the very best they can in an incredible difficult time – over the coming months know that you are valued and appreciated.’