Editorial: Key questions remain over swine flu planning

After a lull over the summer, the number of cases of swine flu is on the rise again.

There has been much uncertainty about what swine flu will mean for practice income, so it is good news that one aspect of this has been resolved.

Last week GPs finally discovered that they will receive £5.25 per vaccination for delivering the swine flu immunisation programme. Practices can now get on with the job of planning how this will work.

The deal also means there will be no change to the QOF for 2010/11 and, for practices who hit target uptake levels - which is 3 per cent higher than the average seasonal flu jab uptake - the thresholds for patient experience indicators PE7 and PE8 will be reduced and GPs will have an extra six weeks to collect data on childhood immunisations.

According to the GPC, these additions will help free up GP and nurse time so they can concentrate on the vaccination programme.

It also means that earnings for some areas of the QOF will be easier to achieve.

But achieving the target uptake levels will be tough for some practices, especially those with hard-to-reach patients. Some are therefore unlikely to see any financial benefit and could, in fact, lose out.

How a more serious wave of swine flu will impact on QOF achievement remains unclear. The vaccination deal alone does not provide enough money to offset what practices may lose in QOF income if they are deluged with swine flu cases.

However, there is some concern that because practices are to receive extra funds and incentives linked to reducing workload, the prospect of the QOF being suspended, if swine flu-related work soars, is now less likely.

The GPC and DoH are currently discussing what would happen should swine flu prevent practices from functioning as normal or force them to drop services.

The outcome of these talks must be made available to practices sooner rather than later. Practices need to be confident that their financial situation is secure if they are to focus on managing the next wave of this pandemic.


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