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It’s patients who get caught in the middle of pharmacist-GP flu wars


25 Oct 2017

It’s flu season once again and The Pharmacist’s GP blogger Dr Livingstone is sick to the back teeth of the bickering between pharmacists and general practice

I’m no longer sure what to call this time of year. Yes, I know it’s autumn. But it’s characterised in general practice by something else: a frenzy of flu-jab activity.

Traditionally, therefore, it’s been known as flu season. Then, as targets and QOF were introduced, the flu campaign. And now, as we fight with you pharmacists for the right to jab, it’s flu wars.

This invokes a strange group of responses and feelings.

Within the practice, it has a galvanising effect. It’s us against the twin threats of influenza infecting our patients and pharmacists affecting our income. Hence both patients and staff rolling up their sleeves, the former literally and the latter metaphorically. We’ll promote the jab on the website, put up banners, have a weekend flu day and so on. It’s team building with a needle-sharp point.

Then there’s the effect on doctor/pharmacist relations. OK, I know we joke about you being over-qualified shop-keeping bean-counters and you joke about us being overpaid, pompous incompetents. By and large, though, we get by in a state of slightly perplexed harmony.

But now? You’re the enemy. And so are we. You cunningly remove the flu reminders we attach to our repeat scripts (allegedly) and we cunningly tell patients your flu jab is a placebo (just an idea).

Which leaves the patients caught neatly in the middle, with loyalties split between trusted prescriber and trusted dispenser. The Government, of course, don’t care about the workload, the inter-professional strife and the effect on professional/patient relationships. It just wants to boost flu vaccination coverage, and fair enough.

But I still wonder if there’s a better way.

After all, reality really strikes home when I innocently ask an elderly lady, ‘Have you had your flu jab yet?’ She hesitates and then says, a little awkwardly, ‘I had it at the pharmacist.’ And she looks at me, feeling guilty, and I look back, feeling the same.

There’s a strained silence, which is broken only when she remembers – almost with relief – that her varicose veins are playing up.


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