Page last updated at 16:31 GMT, Friday, 14 August 2009 17:31 UK

Deal 'close' over swine flu jabs

By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

Flu vaccine
Vaccinations are expected to start in the autumn

Doctors' leaders say they are hopeful that an agreement can soon be reached in negotiations with government over the swine flu vaccination programme.

Ministers unveiled plans on Thursday to vaccinate over 13 million people in the first wave of the UK programme.

But officials were forced to admit GPs had still not signed up to the deal.

The British Medical Association has asked for extra funds to administer the two-shot jab, which some campaigners have dubbed ludicrous.

The government had hoped to have the GPs on board by the time it announced its plan this week.

Talks with the government remain ongoing and we are hopeful that these discussions will conclude shortly
Dr Laurence Buckman, of the British Medical Association

But negotiations have taken longer than expected. Doctors are paid £7.51 for each seasonal flu vaccine and other jabs, such as travel inoculations.

They are not expecting that amount for what may turn out to be a mass vaccination programme, but have argued in talks that they need extra money to cover staffing and administration costs and the overtime they may need to do.

They have also asked for their bonus payments to be protected if work such as blood pressure checks is affected.

Under the programme put forward, people with health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, pregnant women, those with weakened immune systems and frontline health and social care workers will be the first to receive the jab.

This amounts to more than 13 million - about a fifth of the UK population.

It has not been decided whether the rest of the population will then be immunised, although the government has ordered enough vaccine to do so.

There is still time to broker a deal as the vaccination programme will not be started until regulators have approved the vaccine. This is not likely to happen until the end of September at the earliest.

'Ludicrous'

Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the British Medical Association's GPs committee, said: "Talks with the government remain ongoing and we are hopeful that these discussions will conclude shortly.

"Currently, the health service is working well in response to this enormous challenge and all doctors will continue to work hard on behalf of all their patients."

But Susie Squire, political director at the Taxpayers' Alliance, said: "It is the job of GPs to provide frontline healthcare - and they are well paid by taxpayers for this service.

"To pay them extra to administer swine-flu injections is ludicrous. As doctors they should understand that public health is unpredictable and sometimes there are epidemics or accidents that have to be dealt with, and this can mean unpaid overtime."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "We are now working with BMA and NHS organisations to reach a comprehensive swine flu vaccine implementation plan for this first stage of the programme."



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