This is the stark warning issued by the body which represents the UK’s GPs – the General Practitioners Council – which has written to the Department of Health’s director of immunisation Professor David Salisbury, calling on the Government to reverse its decision to slash spending on the immunisation campaign.
The committee claims that soaring numbers of flu cases in the last few days are a sign of a second crisis in two years, following last year’s swine flu epidemic.
In May, Treasury Chief Secretary, David Laws announced an immediate freeze on new advertising and marketing spend in the current financial year, as part of the coalition Government’s £6.2bn package of spending cuts. It is thought the total COI budget has been halved to £40m.
The immunisation campaign usually runs across all media, including direct mail, digital, outdoor and general awareness acitivity.
GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: “We want to tell the Department to step up a gear in terms of publicity. Many practices are reporting they are having great difficulty encouraging patients to be immunised. There is still some misinformation about swine flu, despite the fact that the vaccine has been extremely thoroughly tested.
“If there’s anything that’s going to jeopardise the Government’s savings plan, it’s going to be a big flu outbreak. The marketing was subjected to cutbacks but now there is clearly a crisis brewing and it’s only going to get worse as winter progresses.”
This week the Health Protection Agency said 17 people with flu across the UK have died since the flu season began in October. At least half of those who have died were in a clinical ‘at risk’ group for vaccination. Of the 14 patients whose vaccination status is known, none had received this year’s seasonal vaccine.
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