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Dr Messenger: Infighting puts the jabs into flu service

What could have been a rare opportunity for GP-pharmacy integration has instead resulted in war, says Dr Messenger

So, in the red corner, we have ‘Pharmacies ‘discouraging’ patients from GP flu jabs’, (Pulse, October 13). And, in the blue corner, we have, ‘NHS England will act against GPs diverting flu patients’, (C+D, October 14).

And these equal and opposite perspectives make for an evenly matched fight.

The argument from the GP side goes like this: we have undertaken this task for many years, which our patients appreciate, which provides continuity and the potential for other opportunistic health interventions, which is policed by the Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF) and the Care Quality Commission (CQC), and which benefits patients and boosts GP income. Plus, the announcement that pharmacists would be able to ‘compete’ for the same patients this year came after practices had already ordered their flu vaccine stock, meaning we may well be left with surplus supplies and therefore lose money.

Whereas the pharmacy line is: look, it’s the patient’s choice, we’re health professionals too, we’re more convenient and accessible than the average GP surgery, each jab counts towards QOF targets whoever administers it, we’re allowed to make money too, and, hey, GPs are always banging on about how overstretched they are, so we’re simply helping out.

Both views are fair enough and reasonably compelling. But, of course, I have a vested interest, not least because my practice's relatively poor flu vaccine coverage was picked up by the CQC’s ‘intelligent monitoring’. This means that, ironically, this year we’ve made a major investment in energy, resources and staff to improve the situation at precisely the moment our patients are trooping off in the direction of the local pharmacies.

What is clear is that views are becoming polarised and entrenched. And, as usual, the internecine bickering distracts from the real issue. Which is that this year, the Department of Health’s flu vaccination planning has been badly timed, ill-conceived and poorly co-ordinated. What could have been a rare opportunity for GP-pharmacy harmony and integration has instead resulted in war. Or, at least, a boxing match.

Dr Messenger is a GP trying to negotiate the impenetrable structures and commissioning quagmires of the reformed NHS. Genuinely good friends with his local pharmacist, he offers a GP take on the primary care issues of the day. Please don't shoot, he comes in peace


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