Exclusive: GPs face legal action under DoH flu vaccine plans

GPs could face legal action under DoH plans to force them to share flu vaccine with neighbouring practices, the RCGP has warned.

Dr Kassianos: 'When we know it is a legal minefield, it should not be left to the practices to solve – a solution must come from the centre.’
Dr Kassianos: 'When we know it is a legal minefield, it should not be left to the practices to solve – a solution must come from the centre.’

The DoH in England expects GPs running out of seasonal flu vaccine to request doses from other local practices if they cannot buy further stocks from suppliers.

This would require GPs to take clinical responsibility for patients not on their practice list under a patient specific direction (PSD).

The RCGP warned GPs could be embroiled in legal arguments if patients develop side-effects. It called on the government to clarify GPs’ legal position.

RCGP immunisation lead Dr George Kassianos said: ‘It is unfair to expect practices to do this when there are questions of indemnity, cold chain, and licensing. When we know it is a legal minefield, it should not be left to the practices to solve – a solution must come from the centre.’

The DoH will make a reserve of 400,000 doses available this season following reports of shortages last winter. But GPs must first contact suppliers and then PCT leads and other practices to ask for remaining local doses before they access this stockpile.

Dr Kassianos said GPs would only have the word of the supplying practice that vials had been correctly stored.

He said: ‘I can foresee a lot of legal arguments where a patient in the receiving practice develops a severe side-effect, such as Guillain-Barré syndrome, after receiving a vaccine supplied by another practice and not the manufacturer or wholesaler. No doubt, cold chain will be one of the arguments too.

'We need the DoH and PCTs to come up with a viable scheme to shift vaccines between practices that is legal and complies with the current regulations.'

An MHRA spokesman said vaccines transported or stored outside authorised conditions should not be used. Any decision to administer vaccines outside these conditions ‘would be the responsibility of the healthcare professionals and organisations concerned’.

A DoH spokeswoman declined to comment on the legal threat to GPs but said PSDs are a ‘legal mechanism’ that GPs can use if required.

The Medical Defence Union said it was clarifying the guidance with the department.

Stephen Robinson

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