David Reed outside Boots in Finchley Road

Chemists under fire for selling flu vaccine as GP supplies run out

Thursday, November 15, 2012
7.00 AM

High street chemists have been criticised for selling the flu vaccine while a national shortage has prevented local GP surgeries from inoculating patients at higher risk from winter bugs.

Former cancer sufferer David Reed, 71, was told his GP practice had run out of vaccine due to the shortage on Friday.

But later the same day the semi-retired journalist and conference organiser was surprised to see the flu vaccine advertised for sale at Boots chemist in Finchley Road, Swiss Cottage, for £12.99.

Other chemists in the shopping parade, including Superdrug, also had the vaccine readily available for paying customers.

Mr Reed, who lives in Eton Avenue, Swiss Cottage, said: “It seems that something has gone wrong with the system if GPs haven’t got enough vaccine to deal with their patients. It seems ludicrous to me. How national is the shortage when Boots are still offering it? It seems to be that this is a failure at some level in the National Health System.”

The 71-year-old suffered from myeloma, a cancer of the blood and bones, six years ago and this, along with his age, qualifies him among the “at-risk groups” who should receive the vaccine free of charge on the NHS.

But GPs have reported shortages after one of the UK’s major vaccine suppliers discovered problems with batches and Mr Reed’s surgery, Adelaide Medical Centre in Chalk Farm, has been affected.

David Williams, practice manager at the surgery in Adelaide Road, said: “We are not unique, it’s affected a lot of the practices this year. A few of the big suppliers of the flu vaccine have had a problem with supplying. The way they make the vaccines is basically in big batches and my understanding is some of those batches went wrong and therefore could not be issued.

“So, along with many practices, we’re scrabbling around to try and find all the flu vaccines we need. We’re still hopeful we can give everybody the flu vaccine that needs it and is eligible to have it for free.”

Tony Marshall, of Camden Keep Our NHS Public, said: “If the vaccine is available it would seem interesting to know why an outlet like Boots would be able to get hold of it and the local GP surgery wouldn’t. It suggests that some commercial outlets are given the priority of what vaccine is available. We would certainly condemn that.”

But Boots said the service met a demand and benefited customers.

A spokesman said: “Pharmacy is a good setting for seasonal flu vaccinations due to its convenience of location and ease of appointments. Pharmacists are well trained as healthcare professionals to provide this service as it fits in with community pharmacies’ role in health promotion and prevention of illness.”