by Kazeem Olalekan MRPharmS

Dr Clare Gerada, the Royal College of General Practitioner’s chairman was quoted today as saying that consideration should be given to a law banning healthy people from receiving the flu vaccine. I caught an interview given by Dr Gerada on the Today programme. There were so many mixed messages given by the reporting of this story that I feel I need to make a contribution. Is it that we are treating the so called “worried well” to the detriment of the at risk group? Is it that the shortage is caused by pharmacies who are offering the flu jab privately for about £15? I actually don’t share Dr Gerada’s conclusion that enacting a law to ban healthy people from receiving the flu vaccine is the right way to go.

The facts:

  • GPs plan for their flu case loads every year.
  • The GP stock of vaccine is ordered by the NHS.
  • Private supply is a completely separate stock from that ordered by the NHS (link).
  • Community pharmacies support the need of their patient groups who do not qualify under the NHS criteria.
  • Pharmacists have to receive extra training to be able to administer the vaccines and levy a charge of around £15 for the supply and administration of the flu jab.
  • Increasing number of pharmacies are now providing this service privately.

This model of service delivery, whereby community pharmacies are independent providers, benefits the NHS greatly in 2 main ways:

  1. Customers not covered can exercise the choice to get vaccinated at their own expense.
  2. When an unexpected event occurs, like the really cold weather, which causes extra demand on GPs, then GPs can issue prescriptions which can be dispensed at the pharmacy. However pharmacies are not, under current arrangement, compensated for administering the flu jab.

The debate therefore should not be about enacting law to ban some people from receiving the vaccine but to make adequate and better arrangement for dealing with unexpected surges in uptake.

I recommend:

  • Better strategic planning for flu in future.
  • Better re-enforcement of the hygiene message which was lacking this year: Catch it, Bin it and Kill it.
  • Work closely with the pharmacy partners – explore a model whereby GPs can endorse prescriptions for vaccine to say “supply and administer” and thereby making sure that pharmacists providing this services to qualifying NHS patients are properly remunerated.

This is a debate about planning not about model of service provision. This is why I tweeted the following earlier today:

@r4today I am concerned about the news item today about shortage of flu vaccines as it relates to community pharmacy. There seems to be a link being made between the shortage and the contractual model of community pharmacy i.e. community pharmacy being for-profit organisations. Pharmacists have professional and moral responsibility to their patients. This model has served the NHS very well for a number of years. Pharmacists have been providing private vaccination to patients for many years without a problem. The legitimate debate about the poor planning arrangement for flu this year is now becoming one of the community pharmacy service provision.

On Tuesday 11th January 2011 (~8:35am)

So let us to take 5, take stock and reflect before proceeding on a course of action that could undermine the very reasons why the NHS is so great.


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