The GP leading on swine flu for the BMA has told Pulse the planned vaccination campaign will be delayed by 'at least six weeks'. Such a delay would ruin the Government's plans of having the first doses of swine flu vaccine available by the end of August. Instead, the vaccine would not become available until October at the earliest - when a major surge of swine flu cases is expected.

Dr Peter Holden, lead GP negotiator on swine flu for the BMA, told Pulse lengthy delays would be inevitable because of the logistical nightmare of trying to run two different flu vaccine campaigns at once.

The problem has been compounded because of the lack of crossover between the seasonal and swine flu priority groups - as revealed by Pulse last week - limiting the potential for combined flu clinics.

Dr Holden said: 'We will be negotiating on the assumption that in patients eligible for seasonal and swine flu vaccines, one of the swine flu doses will be given at the same time.

'But the August prediction is far too optimistic. I don't think we will have confidence to deliver both vaccination campaigns until at least six weeks later.'

Dr Holden's comments suggest the seasonal flu campaign, which normally begins in September, could also face delay.

He advised GPs to begin cleaning patient lists and clearing fridge space to ensure they were as prepared as possible for the huge workload of two different vaccine campaigns.

But GPs warned they could be overwhelmed once the two vaccination campaigns began.

Dr James Larcombe, a GP in Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, said: 'We'll have to be careful to ensure quality of care doesn't suffer - the chances are we'll miss some QOF targets [for treating chronic illness].'

Richard Hoey, editor of Pulse, said: 'Part of the problem GPs face is a complete lack of information from the Government about when the swine flu vaccine will be available, exactly who will be getting it and what resources will be available to support its delivery.

'In theory GPs will be leading on a major vaccination campaign in just a matter of weeks, but there is a complete information vacuum and therefore no opportunity for planning. In those circumstances Dr Holden is surely right - a delay must be absolutely inevitable.'


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