Flu jab stockpile may top-up GP ordering

Ministers may set up a central stockpile of flu vaccines to supplement GP orders and avoid shortages, the DoH has said.

Flu jab: the DoH has said it will strive to avoid a repeat of the shortages seen this winter
Flu jab: the DoH has said it will strive to avoid a repeat of the shortages seen this winter

Professor David Salisbury, the department’s director of immunisation, said the DoH would explore all options over the coming months to avoid a repeat of flu jab shortages seen this winter.

But he insisted that a review of procurement policy was asked for ‘long before this winter came around’.

It comes as the GPC and NHS Employers agreed a deal to ensure GPs who administer the Pandemrix H1N1 vaccine to patients will not be penalised in QOF achievement.

Latest figures show 254 people in the UK have died from flu since September. However, the consultation rate for influenza-like-illness has fallen to 66.5 per 100,000 in England and Wales. A total of 418 people remain in critical care, down from 783 at the turn of the year.

Previously, Professor Salisbury had suggested the department would strip GPs of their role ordering vaccine seasonal flu vaccine.

Speaking at the briefing, he said it was still not clear why shortages had occurred when there appeared to be enough vaccine in the system as a whole and uptake was no higher than previous years. ‘It is important that we have a system in place to ensure it wouldn’t permit that again,' he said.

‘But we have to work with all those involved with this: GPs must not be forgotten,’ he added.

Last week, GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said he didn’t believe there were was a need to move to central procurement. ‘What is needed is to build on the current system – that actually works very well – but give legal permission for practices and PCOs to share stocks,' he told GP.

NHS Employers and the GPC have struck a deal to ensure that, for the 2010/11 QOF only, eligible patients who received Pandemrix in place of the seasonal flu vaccine will count towards achievement for the relevant QOF flu indicators.

The agreement applies only to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. A similar approach may be agreed for Scotland, but only if vaccine shortages are reported there.

Preliminary data suggest about 25,000 doses of Pandemrix vaccine have been administered to patients in 2011. Over 250,000 doses have been delivered to practices that reported a shortfall in vaccine supplies.

Uptake of the flu vaccine among healthcare workers is now 26.1%, higher than in the previous two winters.

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