Free flu jabs AXED as Sajid Javid slammed amid NHS backlog - 'Policy on hoof!'  |  UK |  News

Free flu jabs AXED as Sajid Javid slammed amid NHS backlog – ‘Policy on hoof!’ | UK | News

NHS England announced to healthcare workers last Wednesday that the limit for the free vaccination would return to pensioner age following this winter’s booster campaign. It said it was following the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) and the Department for Health.

Children aged 11-15 were also to be taken off the list of patients eligible for the free jab.

The NHS noted that it was “not anticipated that any [flu vaccine] stock will be centrally procured” by the Department of Health for the coming season – something which it had done for this winter.

Health workers have accused the Government of making up “policy on the hoof” and “a strange healthcare choice” at a time when the cost of living is high and immunity to the flu is lower due to pandemic restrictions.

Raj Matharu, Chair of Pharmacy London, said at a recent London-wide meeting of healthcare professionals, “the general consensus was that it’s a retrograde step”.

READ MORE: Free flu jabs for 50-65s SCRAPPED – Javid drops supply

He and others believe that the move will have an impact on the massive backlog of over 6 million patients currently facing the NHS following the coronavirus pandemic, and which promises to remain an issue into next winter.

Mr Matharu said: “They haven’t seen the opportunity costs of this at all. So what money they’re going to save by not vaccinating the 50-64-year-olds may be lost very quickly by the number of [flu] cases that happen.

“The immunity to flu is already low, so having made that decision, it could have an impact on the backlog.”

Mike Hewitson, a superintendent pharmacist who will be one of many who now have to implement the change, commented: “It’ll make it less likely for people to be vaccinated.

Like with the Government’s proposal to raise the age for free prescriptions from 60 to 65, there are concerns that those worst-off in society will be forced to choose between healthcare and eating.

Mr Matharu said that he was aware of patients who could not afford to buy paracetamol or ibuprofen, adding: “The price of a private flu vaccination is anywhere between £9-12 – it’s not going to happen.”

He commented: “It doesn’t seem like they’ve thought this through carefully. It seems as if its policy on the hoof almost.”

The move also appears to go against previous overtures made by the Health Secretary and his predecessor, Matt Hancock, that preventative healthcare was better – and cheaper – than curative healthcare.

In a speech to the Royal College of Physicians on Tuesday, Mr Javid noted that by some estimates the NHS spends as much as 40 percent of its budget treating preventable conditions, adding: “We must hardwire prevention into the NHS.”

Mr Hewitson said that it was “a false economic choice to make these sorts of cuts in these preventative services as much as it is a strange healthcare choice.”

He added: “I understand that the Government and the NHS has got to prioritize its expenditure where it feels it can get the best return for that investment, but preventative services are the Cinderella services of the NHS – they spend all the time bailing the boat out and nobody thinks to invest.”

The NHS said that it was still their intention to meet the record levels of uptake seen this winter next flu season, but Mr Hewitson described this as “magical thinking”.

He noted: “I think it would be difficult to see how when you put up more barriers you get the same uptake of a service.”

Mr Matharu said that immunity to flu was “already low” thanks to pandemic restrictions which have stymied the spread of influenza in recent years, and there were “real worries” of an outbreak now restrictions had been relaxed.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said that along with its living with Covid strategy “it is right that we return our other vaccination programs such as flu back to pre-pandemic levels.

“In 2022/23, it is planned that NHS flu vaccines will be offered to eligible patients in line with pre-pandemic recommendations as set out in the reimbursement letter sent by the NHS to clinicians this week.

“We are incredibly grateful to all the staff across health and social care who played their part in the successful flu campaign over the last year.”

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