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Tories fear pounds 4m swine flu jab cost; GPs will be paid pounds 5.25 a patient but who will foot the bill?

Byline: Madeleine Brindley

QUESTION marks were raised last night about who will pay for a swine flu vaccination programme in Wales.

It is unclear whether the Assembly Government will have to raid its coffers to meet the estimated pounds 4m cost or whether the UK Government will foot the bill.

The query over who foots the bill emerged after a deal was struck to pay GPs pounds 5.25 for every swine flu vaccine administered.

Andrew RT Davies, the Welsh Conservatives' Shadow Health Minister, said: "The Health Minister needs to tell us what success she has had in securing extra money from her colleague Andrew Davies [Finance Minister] to meet these costs in Wales.

"We already know that there has been a dispute between the Assembly Government and Whitehall over who pays for swine flu vaccinations in Wales.

"We now need assurances that frontline budgets will not be raided in order to fund the programme. Public health should not be put at risk by arguments over money."

An Assembly Government spokesman said: "Discussions are still ongoing. The Treasury has made it clear in correspondence that they are prepared to keep the situation under review as the pandemic unfolds, and have assured all devolved administrations that should costs increase significantly above current expected levels this year, they will look at all financing options.

"It is rubbish to suggest that the supply of vaccine or other health services will be affected by issues over who pays for it - the only impact is to worry prospective patients and their families."

Official figures reveal there are currently low levels of swine flu in Wales. There are thought to be some 420 cases, based on the number of people seeking help from their GP in the last week.

This is a considerable fall from the 4,000-plus cases at the end of July, during the nation's first pandemic wave of the H1N1 virus. Experts believe there will be a further wave of cases this winter.

It has been estimated that some 750,000 people in Wales will be offered the swine flu vaccine first. These will include at-risk groups, pregnant women, people living with those with compromised immune systems - such as cancer patients and frontline health - and social care workers.

Over-65s will only be offered the swine flu vaccine if they are in the clinical at-risk groups as otherwise-healthy over-65s appear to have some natural immunity to the H1N1 virus.

GP surgeries, which will provide the vaccinations, will be paid pounds 5.25 for every jab given.

Announcing the deal Health Minister Edwina Hart said: "Welsh GPs in particular have played a key role in the successful management of the swine flu outbreak to date and I am grateful to them for all their hard work.

"This deal represents a fair reward to GPs for what will be a crucial element in our efforts to manage a further wave of flu cases.

"When we announced our plans to increase critical care capacity last week we said the vaccination programme would make a difference in terms of reducing the number of people needing hospital and intensive care treatment.

"This deal means that as soon as the vaccine is licensed we can start protecting those most at risk of complications if they contract the virus."

Dr David Bailey, chairman of the Welsh GP committee, said: "This [payment] was agreed specifically to cover the costs of providing this vaccine and is significantly lower than other immunisation deals.

"We will not see an overall rise in profits for GPs next year because of this."

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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Sep 16, 2009
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