BMA says national flu ad campaign not needed

England should run local flu awareness campaigns instead of expensive national TV advertisements this winter, the head of GPC Scotland has said.

Dr Marshall: 'There’s not a great deal of evidence to suggest that a big TV campaign makes a big difference to uptake rates'
Dr Marshall: 'There’s not a great deal of evidence to suggest that a big TV campaign makes a big difference to uptake rates'

There is little evidence that pricey TV campaigns are value for money or effective at increasing uptake of the seasonal flu vaccine, according to GPC Scotland chairman Dr Dean Marshall, BMA negotiator on flu planning.

Money would be better spent on local campaigns in areas of poorer uptake, he suggested.

England's DoH will not be funding a national advertisement campaign this winter for the second year running.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will all launch flu awareness campaigns by the start of October.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley had faced criticism from Labour, the BMA and the RCGP over the DoH’s decision not to run a national flu awareness campaign last autumn.

By December last year, uptake rates were lower than during the swine flu pandemic of 2009/10.

At the time, former RCGP chairman Professor Steve Field told The Guardian it was ‘ill-advised’ not to run the campaign.

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey had said: ‘People do not seem to have been taking this year's seasonal flu seriously enough and I think an awareness campaign early on could have helped.’

A late surge in demand for the vaccine in January was believed to have led to local shortages. It forced the DoH to release large stocks of old H1N1 Pandemrix vaccine to fill the gap.

Responding to DoH plans to centrally procure flu vaccine in August, the BMA said the late surge in demand for flu vaccine was 'linked to the government's decision not to run the normal flu vaccination advertising campaign in England'.

But Dr Marshall holds a different view.

He told GP: ‘It’s always been an issue whether what we spend on campaigns is value for money. There’s not a great deal of evidence to suggest that a big TV campaign makes a big difference to uptake rates.’

The resources needed to run a national campaign would be better spent if they were diverted to targeted local campaigns instead, he added.

David Behan, DoH director general of social care, local government and care partnerships, had revealed there will be no flu awareness campaign in England this winter.

Although there was no campaign last autumn, the department launched its 'Catch It, Bin It, Kill It' campaign in January after reports of low vaccine uptake emerged.

Its seasonal flu plan for this winter says that, 'while a national campaign might play a role in increasing early uptake of the vaccine, research suggests that it cannot replace proactive and personalised invitations from GPs to patients.

'PCTs and GP practices therefore need to plan carefully to ensure that they are making every effort to identify and contact eligible patients.'

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