The UK Department of Health is reviewing how flu vaccines are ordered following local shortages in two of the past six seasons.

According to recent reports, proposals under consultation could see GPs in England ordering seasonal influenza vaccines from a central stock purchased by the DH, as is currently the process with childhood vaccines.

This contradicts a Department of Health letter to PCT and SHA flu coordinators earlier this year that said practices would be able to keep the responsibility of ordering flu vaccines.

As practices can currently profit from negotiated rates with suppliers, retaining the difference between these prices and the list price reimbursed by PCTs, practice income in England could be set back by as much as £20m.

The Department of Health believes this centralised approach could save the NHS £40m a year, thanks to its associated economies of scale.

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey told GP Online that practices were “very concerned” about the proposals. “Practices have a long established system that is cost-effective, efficient and meets the needs of their patients,” he commented.

Dr Vautrey said the difficulties practices faced last winter around flu vaccine stock were in fact a result of last-minute demand caused by the government’s decision not to run the normal influenza vaccination advertising campaign.

“Improvements could be made so practices share surplus vaccines in a better way, or draw on reserves more easily,” he added.

“But it would seem bizarre for the DoH to move to a central system at a time when the government policy of localism is to do the opposite.”