Page last updated at 00:21 GMT, Wednesday, 7 April 2010 01:21 UK

NHS left with 34m stockpile of swine flu jabs

By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

Flu vaccine
Priority groups and health workers have been offered the vaccine

The NHS has more than 34 million unused doses of swine flu vaccine despite agreeing deals to break its contracts.

The UK government had signed deals with two firms - Baxter and GlaxoSmithKline - for more than 120m doses of the jabs.

But just 44m will now be bought as cases have petered out since December. Of these, 6m have already been used and 3.8m is being sent to help Africa.

Ministers said the renegotiated deal was good value, but the Tories said millions of pounds had been wasted.

This is a careless waste of precious NHS money
Andrew Lansley, shadow health secretary

Of the nearly 44m vaccines that the UK has agreed to pay for, 6m have already been used on priority groups and health workers, while 3.8m are being handed to the World Health Organization for Africa.

Of the rest, 10.6m is already with GPs who will be ready to act if more people entitled to the jab come forward. But the remaining 23.6m will be held in reserve.

Estimates have put the value of the stockpile at between £100m to £150m, although the government has refused to confirm cost saying it was commercially confidential.

Health Secretary Andy Burnham said: "I am pleased we have reached an agreement that is good value for the taxpayer and means that the department has retained a strategic stockpile to protect the UK population without incurring a cancellation fee."

It is also possible the vaccine could be used to combat seasonal flu this winter as it is thought the swine flu virus will become the dominant strain.

Under the terms of the deal with GSK, the government is also purchasing anti-flu drugs as well as bird flu vaccine. These will be held in reserve in case a completely different pandemic emerges.

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: "This is a careless waste of precious NHS money. Labour failed to ensure there were proper break clauses in the contracts which means that British taxpayers have got an extremely bad deal."

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb added: "Today's announcement underscores the need for a thorough independent examination of how the NHS responded to the swine flu pandemic."

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