GPs may be stripped of flu vaccine ordering duties

GPs will lose responsibility for ordering seasonal flu vaccines and instead place orders centrally for stocks procured and held by the DoH under new plans under consultation.

The DoH consultation asks whether the department should centrally procure all seasonal flu vaccine in future. It follows reports of local vaccine shortages last winter.

The review will ask stakeholders whether a central purchase system would make the system more robust, and improve vaccine uptake and the effect on value for money.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley said: ‘We must never underestimate this virus which is why we are looking at how best we can maintain a good supply of vaccine in the years ahead. If it is better for patients and the NHS for vaccine to be procured centrally we will do that.

‘I’d like to hear the views of all the experts including GPs, nurses and manufacturers.’

The DoH also announced it will hold a ‘small central strategic reserve’ of emergency flu vaccine this winter to avoid a repeat of last winter’s shortages.

In a letter to health professionals on the coming winter’s flu plans, CMO Professor Dame Sally Davies said the central supply will be released only if a more severe flu season develops. Local stocks should be redistributed to overcome local shortages as a first step.

GPs have remained in charge of ordering the majority of vaccine supplies for this winter despite being blamed for last winter’s vaccine shortages.

GP funding arrangements for this winter remain unchanged from the last.

An HPA report into last winter’s flu season published Wednesday found 602 people died from the virus in 2010/11.

More than 70% of fatal cases were in young and middle aged people aged 15-64 years. And across all age groups, almost 70% of those who died this season were in a clinical ‘at risk’ group for vaccination.

Overall, more than 90% of deaths were linked to the H1N1 swine flu strain.

Professor John Watson, head of the respiratory diseases department at the HPA, said seasonal flu activity was higher in 2010/11 than the previous year.

The WHO recently announced it expected the swine flu strain to be among the circulating strains again this winter.

Andrew Lansley said: ‘A severe flu season places considerable pressure on the NHS and, although it coped well last year, there are areas where I’m determined we can improve.’

Last winter, estimated jab uptake hit 72.8% among those over 65 years and 50.4% among those under 65 in at-risk groups.

As GP reported last year, all pregnant women will be routinely offered the flu jab from this winter for the first time. GPs are urged to review patient lists during the flu season to ensure any women who become pregnant during this time are offered the vaccine.

But just 38% of all pregnant women received vaccination last winter.

PCTs are also asked to see whether midwifery services can be linked with general practice so that midwives can raise awareness of, and administer, the vaccine during ante-natal classes.

Professor Watson said: ‘We are very concerned that only half of adults eligible for the jab last winter took up the offer of vaccination, and particularly that just over a third of healthy pregnant women received it.

‘For the majority of people with these conditions, flu is a preventable illness and ahead of the next flu season, a concerted effort must be made by healthcare professionals – including GPs and midwifes – to encourage those at risk to take up the offer vaccination. It is the best way to protect against flu.’

The DoH again urged health professionals to be vaccinated, and said the uptake of 34.7% of 2010/11 was ‘still too low’.

Click here to contribute to the consultation.

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