Labour fury as NHS slides further from meeting flu jab ambition

Posted On: 
28th October 2017

Labour has slammed the Government after it emerged the NHS has fallen further away from meeting a flu jab ambition for pensioners.

Labour's Jon Ashworth said the Government approach to flu vaccination was “staggeringly incompetent”.
PA Images

The proportion of over-65s getting the winter jab has fallen year on year since at least 2011/12, despite a Public Health England “ambition” to hit 75%.

Separate figures reveal the budget for the seasonal vaccination publicity campaign was some £3.9m lower during the 2010-2015 Coalition government than it was for the 2005-2010 Labour government.

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Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth said the Government approach to flu vaccination was “staggeringly incompetent”.

But the Department for Health said "more people than ever" were now eligible for the jab.

The number of flu vaccinations given to over-65s has failed to keep pace the with rising number of patients registered with a GP, Public Health England figures show.

Some 74% (6.8 million patients) got the jab in 2011/12 compared with 70.5% (7 million patients) last year.

The last time the 75% target - based on the World Health Organisation recommendation - was met was in 2005/06.

Elsewhere, the proportion of two, three and four-year-olds getting the flu jab missed the 40-65% ambition set by Public Health England in 2015/16.

The vaccination suffered a blow in 2015 when it emerged the virus had mutated, making the jab ineffective.

Meanwhile, the Government spent £7.1m on the vaccination publicity campaign between 2004/05 and 2009/10 compared with just £3.6m between 2010/11 and 2015/16.

Mr Ashworth fumed: “Our hospitals are overcrowded, all our hospital waiting targets are now routinely missed and we’ve had warnings that social care is at tipping point.

“A flu outbreak could make winter pressures more severe, extensive and destabilising for our NHS than ever before.  

“Yet Theresa May’s response to a potential flu crisis has been staggeringly complacent, even in the wake of serious warnings from senior NHS leaders such as Simon Stevens.”

He added: “Given how devastating a flu outbreak could be it’s simply not good enough. Ministers must take responsibility, come to Parliament and explain what they are doing to ensure the NHS can cope this winter.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “This year 21 million people – more than ever before - are eligible for a free flu jab and we’ve announced an unprecedented system-wide push for all NHS workers to have the jab.”

The department added that the number of 'high risk' people having the jab rose by 3.5% last year and that "more than ever" was being spent this year on the advertising campaign. 

And it noted that the UK has one of the highest rates of flu vaccination coverage in Europe.