More than £3 million of vaccines are wasted each year in England due to simple failures storing them in fridges, The Yorkshire Post can reveal.
Leaving fridge doors open, failing to have them serviced or even unplugging them by mistake led to wastage in GP surgeries which cost £190,000 alone in West Yorkshire last year.
The figures come as a major patient recall has been ordered in Barnsley amid concerns 500 children at a village GP practice could have been given ineffective vaccines over a five-year period. The alert was sparked when it was discovered a fridge at the Brierley Medical Practice was not kept at the correct temperature.
Fiona Jorden, regional consultant in public health for NHS England, said: “We would like to offer our apologies for any concern that has been caused to patients and their families by this incident.
“Once the problem was discovered, all affected patients were identified and contacted as soon as possible. The vaccinations given to patients will not have caused them any harm and may have provided some protection against infections.
“However, as a precautionary measure and to ensure they have the optimum protection the vaccines have to offer, all affected patients have now been encouraged to make an appointment to receive further vaccinations as required.”
The recall covers vaccinations given to children between January 2009 and June last year.
The practice has been under new management since July by Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust but the failures could leave the its former partners facing damages claims.
Andrew Harrison, specialist in medical negligence claims at Raleys Solicitors in Barnsley, said it had been approached by a number of parents about claims.
“Despite reassurances from the authorities that the children have not been harmed by the vaccinations that they did receive, parents are obviously and rightly concerned,” he said.
Figures from Public Health England show 77 “cold chain” failures were reported by GPs in West Yorkshire last year, leading to vaccines being wasted at a cost of £191,000.
Of these, 25 involved cases where the fridge was not working at a cost of £105,000, another £25,000 was wasted when fridges were turned off in error and another £17,500 was lost by fridge doors being left open.
The total cost in England was £3.1m.
Officials say incidents peak in September and October at the start of the annual flu vaccination campaign. They say wastage could be eliminated by annually servicing fridges, measures to deter unplugging and ordering smaller amounts of vaccine.
A spokesman for NHS England and Public Health England in the region said it was “unacceptable” vaccine wastage was occurring, some of which was easily preventable, and guidance and training was given to staff to ensure good management
“Strict quality control guidelines are in place to ensure optimum vaccine effectiveness and we encourage GP practices and other healthcare workers to continue to promptly report any storage incidents to their local NHS screening and immunisation team.”