Doctors have raised “serious concerns” about the rollout of Covid boosters in the autumn, as GPs warn a cut in government funding means many can no longer afford to offer vaccinations.
The UK Health Authority announced it will be offering a new Omicron-specific vaccine from Moderna to over-50s as part of its latest vaccination programme, due to start in September.
But the heads of the major GP practices have said so The Independent that reduced funds in times of rising costs and staff shortages make the job “unprofitable”.
The British Medical Association (BMA) has said it has “serious concerns” about how a fall in the number of GPs offering vaccinations would affect the vaccination programme, and called for funding to be increased.
The contract for GPs to supply vaccines this autumn has been cut to £10.06 from £12.58 a dose, while a £10 surcharge for them to give vaccines in care homes and other vulnerable groups has also been cut.
dr Michelle Drage, chief executive of the Londonwide Local Medical Committees, which represents the majority of the capital’s 1,200 GP practices, warned they do not have the resources to run three major vaccination campaigns – Covid, flu and polio – at the same time.
She added: “With the current staffing crisis, there simply aren’t enough GPs and nurses to do the day job. The public health prioritization of urgent vaccinations means something has to give way between routine appointments and getting several million Londoners vaccinated quickly.
dr Preeti Shukla, head of clinical and prescribing policy for the BMA General Practice Committee, said the addition of the new Moderna vaccine is great news in the fight against Covid as part of the fall vaccine campaign to prevent another winter outbreak.
“However, given the current well-documented pressure on GP practices and the cut in funding to provide these vaccines, we have serious concerns about adoption. Payment to GPs for vaccine supplies has fallen 20 percent since it was introduced last year, while costs for GP surgeries have only skyrocketed in the meantime,” she said.
“This vaccine needs to be frozen and refrigerated, an increasingly costly process as energy costs rise. The new Moderna vaccine only strengthens the case for returning payments to last year’s levels rather than attempting a cheap booster program.
“While GP practices are happy to hear about a new vaccine to add to their arsenal, they will wonder if the numbers add up in the face of a difficult fall and winter.”
A head of several primary care practices, covering thousands of patients, said they had to cancel the fall program because the cost was “unsustainable”.
They said: “We’re not doing any Covid vaccinations this autumn, we just can’t get the money to work and we don’t have the reserves to run a big deficit at work.
“The problem with less money is that it encourages going out less and getting people in the door. Poorer people and ethnic groups with a distrust of government institutions need the NHS to come for them and that doesn’t come cheap.
“Costs are skyrocketing, utilities are blackmailing, and casual workers are asking for more money. In 2021, during vacation, volunteer workers were easy to come by, but vacation ended and they went back to work. People get fed up with all the volunteering when their bills are so high. This means we have to rely more on paid personnel to even do shunting work.”
The head of primary care also raised concerns about the viability of London’s children’s polio vaccination program announced earlier this month by Britain’s health authority, meaning many practices will have more than 1,000 children who can be treated with the same level of funding of £ need to be vaccinated 10 per vaccine.
They said the announcements of rollouts were a “political gimmick announced by people saying, ‘We’re going to do something’ without actually looking at the capacity to do it.”
It comes as leading scientist John Ball has warned that as the Covid virus develops, Britain “must keep walking like the Red Queen in Alice and the Looking Glass just to stay in the same place” while it rushing to keep it up with new variants.
NHS England declined to comment. The Department of Health and Social Care has been asked for comment.