The Pharmacist’s GP blogger Dr Livingstone is deeply unimpressed with the way NHS England is handing this year’s flu vaccination service – with far-reaching consequences for GPs and pharmacists alike


It’s that time of year again. Which means that the snuffling you can hear is either the sound of patients developing the first symptoms of influenza or the emotional meltdown of GPs and pharmacists trying to sort out their flu jab programme. Because, frankly, organising the influenza vaccination campaign is becoming more of a hassle than sorting out flu itself.

The words ‘complete’, ‘dog’s’ and ‘breakfast’ really don’t do it justice. To recap: for some time, the NHS has pitched pharmacy and general practice into an unseemly turf war over flu jabs. This has led to inter-professional strife and accusations of dirty tricks on either side, with a backdrop of organisational and financial angst.

Just to spice things up, this year, NHS England decided to split the flu jab into two new versions: one for the over-65s and another for the younger cohort. When this was first mooted last winter, we predicted chaos and confusion in general and supply problems in particular. And we were told by NHS England not to worry our pretty little heads because, of course, everything would be fine.

Well, it isn’t. We’ve spent a lot of time and effort organising clinics, shifting other work and promoting the jab, only to be scuppered by, guess what, supply problems affecting both jabs. Clinics are empty, nurses are twiddling their thumbs and we are banging our heads against the nearest wall.

NHS England’s response? Simple. Practices and pharmacies should arrange to swap stocksto ensure patients receive the vaccine. So, just to clarify: having deliberately contrived an annual flu war between GPs and pharmacists, NHS England now expects us to play nicely together. Sure, and we’ll set up a football match on Christmas day, too.

To be honest, sorting, bean counting and fire-fighting the flu campaign is fast becoming more trouble than it’s worth. So maybe it’s time for NHS England to take over the whole thing: promoting the jab, running the clinics and, most of all, being responsible for sorting out their own cock ups. A financial hit, sure – but some welcome immunity to winter stress.