GPs will remain sceptical about the pharmacy flu service until it is shown to increase vaccine uptake, a senior doctor has said.
The first national pharmacy flu service finished on Tuesday (March 1), with the latest figures showing vaccination rates for at-risk patients have dropped in comparison to last year.
Data from Public Health England (PHE) revealed that the proportion of over-65s vaccinated by the end of January fell from 72.5% last flu season to 71% in 2015-16.
The vaccination rate also dropped from 50% to 45% among under-65s in clinical risk groups, while coverage for pregnant women fell by 1.6%.
GPs want a "demonstrable increase"
Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chair of the British Medical Association's (BMA) GP committee, told C+D that doctors will remain worried about the pharmacy flu service until they see a "demonstrable increase in overall uptake".
"Until we see that, practices will be concerned that all that's happening is [GPs and pharmacists are] fishing in the same pond," he said.
Pharmacists needed to focus on vaccinating patients that will not visit a local GP practice, Dr Vautrey stressed.
"There's large numbers of patients who don't get immunised at all. It's those people [pharmacists] should really be trying to reach, rather than focussing on patients who would be vaccinated anyway," he said.
Dr Vautrey said "mixed messages" about where patients should have received their vaccination may have influenced rates "to some extent". But the "bigger issue" is that patients perceived the vaccine to be ineffective last year, he said.
Pharmacy service an "excuse" for patients not to get vaccinated
Dr Bill Beeby, deputy chair of the BMA's clinical and prescribing subcommittee, told C+D that patients had used the pharmacy service as an "excuse" not to get vaccinated at a GP practice.
"They say, 'I'm going to have it done at my pharmacy', and they just slip through our fingers," he said.
"They don't go to the pharmacy. The pharmacy doesn't have the responsibility to chase them up – we're chasing them up," he said.
Dr Beeby stressed he has no issue with pharmacists vaccinating patients, but labelled this year's service "uncoordinated", with pharmacies vaccinating patients "almost at random".
"It means the coordination we've had by doing it through practices has been destroyed," he told C+D.
The pharmacy flu service was plagued by local GP opposition last year, and Dr Beeby said GPs found it hard to build relationships with large multiples.
"Independent pharmacies have an interest in the local community, but all too often we're [dealing with] large chains. The local managers are sometimes transient, so it's always going to be difficult to build working relationships with them," he added.
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