Flu jabs crisis

CONCERNS remain about serious shortages of flu vaccines for vulnerable patients after the latest figures yesterday revealed that at least 50 people, mainly children and the young and middle aged, have died from the virus.

The crisis is the first to test Health Secretary Andrew Lansley – but is unlikely to be the last as spending cuts hit the NHS hard. In many ways, it underlines a key weakness of the Minister's approach to the Health Service with his repeated insistence that key decisions should be taken locally.

Instead of launching a high-profile national campaign to encourage people in at-risk groups to get immunised against flu, Mr Lansley cancelled it to save money, believing that local initiatives would be sufficient.

Fewer people have been inoculated and now cases of swine flu are surging, prompting a huge increase in demand for the jab as the potential dangers hit home, leading to local shortages of jabs which are ordered individually by GP surgeries.

Of course, many decisions do not, and should not, be taken in Whitehall. However, by putting dogma ahead of common sense in failing to direct national action, the flu crisis has been exacerbated.

The Health Secretary needs to learn the lessons of this episode, particularly given his controversial plans for a rapid and unprecedented reorganisation of the NHS to give GPs local control of spending decisions.

These continue to attract heavy criticism for risking short-term financial turmoil and, in the long term, the break-up of a unified NHS as local organisations make their own decisions without an overarching strategic direction.

He should realise that millions of individual decisions in the NHS do have national consequences.