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Claims patients cancelled pharmacy flu jabs after GP practice message

GPs: "We do accept that our first poster was not worded as well as it might have been"
GPs: "We do accept that our first poster was not worded as well as it might have been"

Some patients in Hampshire have allegedly cancelled their pharmacy flu jab bookings after a GP surgery warned of vaccine wastage if they did not book with them, C+D understands.

In an email to patients and a poster displayed in the window of Rowlands Castle Surgery in Hampshire last week (July 22), the GP partners and practice manager asked patients to: “Please support the surgery by booking your flu (and COVID-19) appointment with the surgery.

“If our patients go elsewhere for their vaccination, our stock will go to waste and it may affect us being able to offer a comprehensive service in future,” they warned.

“We are not working with any pharmacies or hubs to provide this service as we are commissioned to and able to vaccinate all our eligible patients.”

In its original email to patients, the surgery wrote that it had signed up to phase 3 of the COVID-19 vaccination programme and the GPs hoped to offer flu jabs alongside the COVID-19 booster vaccinations from mid-September.

However, both pharmacies and GPs were given a deadline of 5pm on July 28 to register their interest in providing the booster vaccination service.

C+D understands that pharmacies in the area have had patients cancel their pre-booked flu vaccination appointments after seeing this communication from the GP surgery.

In February, pharmacies were told to order their flu jab stock for the 2021/22 season “on the basis” of the record number of jabs they administered in 2020/21.

Updated poster

In an updated message published this week (July 26), Rowlands Castle Surgery stressed: “At this stage, decisions have not been made about the way in which COVID-19 vaccinations will be delivered. We hope to be able to offer the COVID-19 vaccine and the flu vaccine at the same time, but the arrangements are yet to be finalised.”

The GP partners are still encouraging patients to book their flu vaccinations directly with the surgery “to prevent wastage”.

“Not worded as well as it might have been”

In response to C+D’s request for comment on the communication sent to patients, Rowlands Castle Surgery practice manager Janine Leake said: “The main objective of the GPs and staff at Rowlands Castle Surgery has always been to ensure that every patient eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine can receive one.

“We do accept that our first poster was not worded as well as it might have been, and we have replaced the original and revised the content.”

While she stressed that decisions have yet to be made on the COVID-19 booster vaccination programme, the surgery’s “strong hope” is to be able to offer patients both jabs at the same time, she said.

“We completely respect the right of patients to exercise choice, but it is also important for patients to be aware that if they do not book their flu jabs with us, there will be vaccine wastage. [This] may affect the number of vaccines we can purchase in future – potentially compromising the comprehensive coverage that we are currently proud to offer,” Ms Leake told C+D.

“We are not booking flu vaccinations yet, so none have booked with us to date,” she added.

“Distressing” narrative

A pharmacy dispensing technician from a neighbouring town – who wished to remain anonymous – said: “It is incredibly demoralising and deflating when GP surgeries emotionally blackmail patients to receive their flu vaccine with them, through fear of a lack of comprehensive service in the future and wastage of vaccines.

“Many of our patients are upset they were made to fear to use their local pharmacy through an email sent out to the community,” they added.

“GP practices should all be working together with pharmacies and promoting uptake and trust within the community, particularly during a pandemic, [instead of] communicating such narratives that cause worry and distress,” the dispensing technician continued.

11 Comments
Question: 
How is your pharmacy preparing for the 2021/22 flu season?

Angry Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

Ideally shouldn't be providing two vaccines on the same day and not in the same arm. All about money not about patient care. These doctors surgeries closed their doors and still are by not seeing patients or undertaking relevant tests/medication reviews yet they can open their doors temporarily for flu/covid vaccinations 

Pharmacy Man, Pharmacy owner/ Proprietor

I'm pretty sure our local GP surgery (next door) has not closed, it has been seeing patinets every day.

And the guidance is already that it is acceptable to give the jab in each arm for some patients; and I suspect that will  be extended to all patients soon.  I think the only reason it has not been pushed so far, is so that people are not kept waiting for the covid booster - i.e. because the flu jabs might not all be avaialble immediately.

Pharmacy Man, Pharmacy owner/ Proprietor

 

Hmmm, let me make sure I have this right:

Pharmacies start to book appointments for flu jabs earlier and earlier in order to draw patients away from their surgery - and that is considered an appropriate competitive behaviour. (There is no other reason that we need to book flu patients starting from July) 

And pharmacies (as a group - mostly driven by multiples) buy up a much higher number of flu jabs, which makes it harder for GP surgeries to get flu jabs, and that is considered okay too...

But GP surgeries start to fight back with their own competitive steps and we are all complaining about it.

I think most of us understand that there is one flu jab per patient and that wherever they go is where the money goes.  We don't have a profit sharing deal with the local surgery and they can't stop the steps we take for being competitive.  Therefore it's time to stop complaining about it and make sure we just do a better job at delivering vaccines.

For what it is worth, if you did agree a nice plan to share out the patients with your local GP surgery you might be breaking the law (competition law).  By 'competing' we will drive up standards, which is ultimately good for patinets.

Richard MacLeavy, Dispenser Manager/ Dispensing Assistant

You hit the nail on the head when you say that competition drives up standards as that is exactly whats happening in this case. At one time you could only get a flu jab by standing in a long line (often tailing outside in all weathers) at the GP surgery at a set date and time in a sort of production line fashion. This process wasn't particularly accessible, or patient centred. Pharmacies have raised the standard considerably. You have much more flexibility regarding your vaccination, including the ability to get a vaccine at the weekend or an evening. As you point out you can book as far ahead as from July or similarly rock up on the day without prior appointment. Pharmacy has brought accessiblity, convienience and dare I say a more personalised and patient centred approach to the service and is behind the rise in uptake of vaccination.  The underhand tactic being employed by the surgery in this case is essentially guilt tripping patients into using a substandard service as an alternative to fair competition. 

Pharmacy Man, Pharmacy owner/ Proprietor

Or is their approach in fact just competing on a differnet pitch. This approach only works because the patients value their local GP service. If the pharmacy was able to provide a service that the patients valued above that of their GP surgery it could employ the same approach.

And the downside for the surgery is also true, if the income from the jabs is removed from the GP surgery it means the GP surgery might have one less nurse or receptionist - which patients might not want.  OR if it means that the GP makes less money, then the GP surgery risks not being able to replace a partner after retirement, or a partner leaves for a more profitable surgery, where patients don't go to the pharmacy for a jab.  Either way that has concequences for the patient that they might not want, and this 'underhand' tactic is just making patinets aware of that.  It is not correct to say that the GP surgery must hide those risks from the patient.

Ultimately it is competition, which means it is time to stop complaining and start innovating.

Kevin Western, Community pharmacist

seriously? less staff if they dont do flu vaccines? they have had money almost literally shovelled at them to buy extra staff to do all the extra jobs entailed in being close for a year. this is seen as the GPs christmas bonus and they hate losing it, understandably, but if they are really "patient focussed" they would get out of vaccionation and concentrate on stuff only they can do like treating illness. 

Our surgeries are very difficult to contact for patients, but can ring every patient on their list to ask about flu vaccines.... whats the priority here?

Paul Dishman, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Exactly. Those private schools and Christmas ski trips need paying for.

Pharmacy Man, Pharmacy owner/ Proprietor

As I am sure you are very very aware - flu vaccines bring a disproportionately large income for a surgery or pharmacy. Pretending otherwise is just trying to make a point.

The ultimate message is to just stop complaining and focus on being a better business. 

Adam Hall, Community pharmacist

Sadly, this is not new.What's that AC/DC song - 'Dirty Deeds Done Cheap' 

David Kent, Community pharmacist

The only wastage they are worried about is to their income!

Pharma Tron , Community pharmacist

Meanwhile in other news, the sky is blue and grass is green...

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