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PSNC: Government’s flu campaign was missing ‘key details’

By Isabel Shaw

19 Oct 2020

The Government’s public health campaign on this year’s flu programme was missing ‘key details’ on the possible delays patients might face in getting a vaccination, according to PSNC’s head of NHS services Alastair Buxton.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4 last week (16 October), Mr Buxton said: ‘Obviously, the Government’s message has got out to patients about being vaccinated this year, but it was missing the key details, which were to explain that with the largest ever flu vaccination programme this year, inevitably, would mean that some people would have to wait a bit longer for their vaccination.’

His comments come as many pharmacies across England have reported already running out of flu vaccines, amid unprecedented demand for the service this year.

Mr Buxton appeared on Radio 4’s consumer affairs programme, You and Yours, to discuss the flu programme and the public’s frustration with the confusing messages surrounding the service.

The show’s host, Shari Vahl spoke to two patients on air who were advised by the Government to get their flu vaccination as soon as possible, but both found they could not make an appointment anywhere.

Ms Vahl said it was ‘pointless’ telling the public to get the vaccine if it could not be supplied.

Mr Buxton said: ‘I, and community pharmacy teams across the country share people’s frustration [with the service], it’s really important that we have clear communication from the Government about things like this.’

He added that pharmacies and GPs had predicted earlier in the year that there would be a ‘great demand’ for the flu service this season – something he said the Government was aware of as well.

‘Many pharmacies were able to increase their orders at the start of the pandemic when we saw this might be a problem. But because of the way ordering the vaccines and manufacturing works there was only limited ability to increase the orders at that point,’ he said.

In September, PSNC reported that pharmacists had vaccinated over 650,000 NHS patients in the first four weeks of the flu service – three times the number vaccinated in the same period last year.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) recently announced that GP practices will be able to order additional flu vaccines for the 2020/21 season from Government procured stock from mid-October, but is yet to confirm similar plans for pharmacy.

A DHSC spokesperson told the Pharmacist last week (12 October) that guidance for pharmacies would be published ‘shortly’ but because the ‘legal mechanisms and delivery arrangements vary’, the Government has had to develop separate processes for both GPs and pharmacists to ensure ‘equitable access to the vaccine’.

Under this year’s flu programme, the Government has pledged to vaccinate more than 30 million people in England, following the decision to extend eligibility for the free flu jab to more schoolchildren and shielded patients and their households, as well as people aged 50 to 64 ‘later in the season’.

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