An average of 106 fewer patients per practice in England have received flu jabs compared to last year, meaning thousands of patients could be putting their health at risk.
However, some patients may have been vaccinated at pharmacies, under controversial plans for community pharmacists to deliver flu jabs in addition to practices this year. GP leaders have warned the move could see practices face financial losses over unused flu jab doses.
The RCGP said the ‘uncharacteristically mild weather’ may be putting patients off signing up for jabs, but they should be informed that cold weather is not always a factor in flu outbreaks.
The flu vaccine last year came under fire after the main strain of the virus was shown to have deviated so far from the strain in the vaccine that the vast majority of patients received little benefit. Doctors have urged patients not to be dissuaded from being vaccinated this year.
Dr Andrew Green, GPC clinical and prescribing subcommittee chairman, said: ‘The evidence from areas where pharmacists were previously allowed to provide flu vaccination did not show any increase in total numbers vaccinated, so we were never expecting any increase this year.
‘However, the reported decrease is a surprise, and might be due to the difficulty in collecting accurate real-time data, a problem which is well recognised where multiple providers operate.
‘Our real concerns though relate to next year’s campaign, as GPs will be forced to reduce their orders to prevent waste, and if demand increases for any reason the vulnerable might miss out. This is an inevitable consequence of fragmenting the system of vaccine delivery and allowing one provider to cherry pick mobile fitter patients with no responsibility for reaching those most in need.’
RCGP chairwoman Dr Maureen Baker said: ‘These figures are extremely alarming. We are experiencing an incredibly mild November this year but we don’t need cold weather for a flu outbreak.
‘The drop in the number of vaccinations that we are seeing this year can only increase the risks for the frail elderly and others more susceptible to flu, as well as potentially increasing winter pressures on the NHS.’
Photo: Jim Varney