News

HDA UK Media and Political Bulletin – 4 October 2021

Media coverage: 

 GP flu jabs hit by vaccine shortages despite government claims of ‘no impact’

 The Independent, Samuel Lovett, 01 October 2021

The Independent reports that GP surgeries around England are continuing to experience delays in the delivery of influenza vaccines, amid the nationwide shortage of lorry drivers. GPs have had to cancel or push back vaccination appointments.

While manufacturers have assured the government that they have sufficient staff and fuel reserves to deliver the flu vaccines as planned, some surgeries are still waiting to receive supplies.

Seqirus, one of the UK’s largest suppliers of seasonal flu vaccines, said that the shortage of lorry drivers was expected to push back deliveries of doses by up to two weeks. Through a remodelling of its delivery plans, however, Sequirus now anticipates that 85 percent of its vaccines for England and Wales will be delivered to GPs and pharmacies by the end of October, with the remaining delivered in November.

The lorry driver shortage and delayed deliveries are expected to impact plans to inoculate people with the flu jab and Covid booster at the same time. Dr Rajeka Lazarus, Chief Investigator for the ComFluCOV study, which looked at the safety of co-administering the vaccines, said that guidance remained to have the flu-vaccine as soon as possible.

A spokesperson from the DHSC said that the delivery of flu vaccines is continuing as planned.

 

Petrol crisis: Pharmacies facing medicine shortages within days as driver shortage WORSENS

 The Express, Richard Percival, 02 October 2021

The Express reports that pharmacies fear that the ongoing fuel crisis could affect supplies of medicines, despite government plans to start deliveries by military personnel. Pharmacy bosses say that deliveries have been delayed by the lack of drivers, but no patients have missed out on receiving medicines.

Andrew Lane, Chairman of the National Pharmacy Association said to the Times: “A resilient medicines supply chain is obviously vital to the health of the nation, so it’s important this isn’t allowed to escalate into a widespread problem that impacts patient care.”

Some Conservative voices have proposed using low-level criminal offenders to address the worker shortage, while Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer and the SNPs Westminister leader Ian Blackford called for the Prime Minister to recall Parliament to address the crisis.

 

Fuel and HGV crisis: Medicine deliveries being hit by driver shortages, say pharmacies

The Times, Oliver Wright, Chris Smyth, Ashley Armstrong and Andrew Ellson, 02 October 2021

The Times reports that chemists are warning that the fuel and haulage crisis is affecting vital supplies of medicines, amid reports from ministers that the army will begin delivering petrol from Monday.

From a total of 5000 foreign HGV drivers who the Government has said will be granted visas, 300 foreign fuel tanker driver visas will be fast-tracked. They will be allowed to stay until February 28 rather than Christmas Eve.

Rod McKenzie of the Road Haulage Associated, said that the extension was not helpful and accused ministers of “lurching from an unworkable idea to one that’s slightly less unappealing to foreign drivers — but only just”.

While pharmacy chiefs said that any interrupted deliveries had not generally affected patients’ assess to treatment, they called on ministers to ensure that the situation did not worsen. There are concerns in Whitehall, the Times continues that medicines supplies could be interrupted next week if a solution is not found.

This was also reported by Reuters: Chaos in the UK: pumps dry, medicines disrupted and pig cull fears

 

Parliamentary Coverage

There was no parliamentary coverage today.

 

Full Coverage

GP flu jabs hit by vaccine shortages despite government claims of ‘no impact’

The Independent, Samuel Lovett, 01 October 2021

GP surgeries in England are continuing to experience delays in the delivery of influenza vaccines – weeks after the government downplayed fears of disruption to the country’s flu programme amid a nationwide shortage of lorry drivers.

GPs in Reading and West Suffolk have recently been forced to cancel vaccination appointments due to the delays, telling patients that the “situation is completely outside of our control”.

Manufacturers have assured the government they have sufficient staff and fuel reserves to deliver the flu vaccines as planned, The Independent has been told, but some surgeries are still waiting to receive their supplies.

One GP in West Suffolk told its patients earlier this week that it is “one of the thousands of surgeries across the country being affected” by distribution issues and delays – despite “having ordered our vaccine 12 months ago to guarantee our delivery date”.

“As a result of this, our vaccine will not arrive in time for the clinic that you were booked into … this situation is completely outside of our control,” the surgery said, adding that it had no option to cancel its appointments.

Seqirus, one of the UK’s largest suppliers of seasonal flu vaccines, said at the beginning of September that a shortage of HGV drivers was expected to push back the delivery of doses by up to two works.

It’s unclear if the continuing delays reported in some parts of the country are linked to the “unforeseen road freight challenges” that were initially encountered by Seqirus, or whether other vaccine manufacturers are similarly struggling to complete their deliveries.

After alerting the government to the challenges it was facing, Seqirus “remodelled” its delivery plans and now anticipates that more than 85 per cent of its vaccines for England and Wales will be delivered to GP clinics and pharmacies by the end of October, a spokesperson for the manufacturer said. The remaining doses are set to be delivered in November.

In Reading, GPs have told patients they will now have to wait a further two weeks to receive their winter flu jab, after initial expectations that vaccine supplies would be available for administration by the end of September.

Balmore Park Surgery, in Caversham, said the road haulage delays meant its rollout had been pushed back from 25 September until 9 October. “Please accept our apologies for the delay but this really is beyond our control,” the GP said, as reported by the Reading Chronicle.

Another surgery, in Tilehurst, said it also hoped to start administering flu vaccine doses on 9 October after a delivery was “unfortunately … delayed again”.

An NHS source said the situation remained “difficult” in parts of England and will need to be monitored moving forward.

The lorry driver shortages and delayed deliveries are expected to impact plans to inoculate people with the flu jab and Covid booster at the same time.

With 50 million booster jabs and more than 30 million flu shots set to be offered to eligible groups in the coming weeks, the government had hoped to co-administer these vaccines to accelerate the rollout and ensure people are protected as soon as possible heading into winter.

However, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said earlier this month that the dual approach may be “subject to [the] availability” of both vaccines and, in some cases, might not be practical.

Dr Rajeka Lazarus, the chief investigator for the ComFluCOV study, which looked at the safety of co-administering the flu and Covid vaccines, said “we need to avoid” delaying the rollout of vaccines “because you haven’t got the delivery in for one or the other”.

“If you have your flu vaccine in now but you don’t have your Covid vaccine for a month, then the guidance is not to delay that,” she told a science briefing on Thursday.

Earlier this month, the British Medical Association warned that delays to the delivery of the flu vaccine would have a “serious impact on both practice workloads and, most importantly, patients”.

At the time, the Department of Health and Social Care insisted there was set to be “no impact on the flu vaccination programme overall”.

In response to the more recent reports of vaccine shortages among GPs, a spokespersons for the DHSC said: “The delivery of flu vaccines is continuing as planned. We are working closely with flu vaccine manufacturers and remain confident in their ability to deliver the vaccines needed this season.”

 

Petrol crisis: Pharmacies facing medicine shortages within days as driver shortage WORSENS

 The Express, Richard Percival, 02 October 2021

Pharmacists believe the ongoing crisis could affect supplies of important medicines to pharmacies as the Government prepares military staff to drive vans. Last night, the Government said 200 military personnel, including 100 drivers, have been training at haulier sites and will start deliveries to help relieve the situation at petrol stations, which ministers insist is stabilising.

The Government also announced that a temporary visa scheme for nearly 5,000 foreign food haulage drivers, which was due to expire on December 24, will be extended to the end of February, following criticism of its attractiveness to drivers.

But pharmacy bosses said some deliveries had been delayed because of the lack of drivers but made clear patients had not missed out on receiving medicines.

Andrew Lane, chairman of the National Pharmacy Association, added to The Times: “A resilient medicines supply chain is obviously vital to the health of the nation, so it’s important this isn’t allowed to escalate into a widespread problem that impacts patient care.”

Elsewhere, businessman Sir John Timpson has thrown his support behind Dominic Raab’s call for low-level criminal offenders to be used to address the country’s shortage of workers.

The Justice Secretary told The Spectator those given community sentences could help with the UK’s lack of HGV drivers amid concerns about fuel transportation.

Sir John, whose company Timpsons began recruiting ex-prisoners 20 years ago, backed Mr Raab’s suggestion in the hope it might signal a “permanent shift” in society.

He added: “If this represents a permanent shift in attitude it will significantly reduce the number of prisoners who re-offend and will cut the vast cost of our prosecution and prison service.”

It comes as opposition parties raised the prospect of a parliamentary recall to address wider labour shortages and supply chain disruption.

Sir Keir Starmer said the temporary visa scheme would not be up and running “for weeks”, and added that the Prime Minister should, if necessary, recall Parliament to rush through legislation to ensure the shelves remain stocked in the run-up to Christmas.

The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford said Boris Johnson “must immediately recall Parliament and convene cross-party talks to set out steps to effectively tackle the Brexit crisis”.

He added: “The severe labour shortages, soaring costs, empty supermarket shelves, ongoing fuel crisis and trading barriers are all inflicting serious and lasting harm.”

In an announcement on Friday evening, the Government said 300 fuel tanker drivers would be able to come to the UK from overseas “immediately” under a bespoke temporary visa which will last until March.

Some 4,700 other visas intended for foreign food haulage drivers will be extended beyond the initially announced three months and will last from late October to the end of February.

A total of 5,500 poultry workers will also be allowed in to help keep supermarket shelves stocked with turkeys before Christmas.

The Government has said these workers, who can arrive from late October, will be able to stay up to December 31 under the temporary visa scheme.

But the Government added the visas will not be a long-term solution and it wants employers to invest in the domestic workforce instead of relying on overseas labour.

It said it is also working with the industry to find long-term solutions to the shortage of HGV drivers and to encourage more people to enter the logistics sector by improving pay and conditions.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the fuel situation is “stabilising” in most parts of the country and the military is being deployed as a “precaution”.

He told Sky News this morning: “I think it is right that as a precaution that the Government has asked the military to help. I think that is the right measure to take to make sure that people have all the confidence that they need.”

“I think that will further stabilise the situation and give more confidence.”

But the chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association said fuel shortages are getting worse in some parts of the country.

 

Fuel and HGV crisis: Medicine deliveries being hit by driver shortages, say pharmacies

The Times, Oliver Wright, Chris Smyth, Ashley Armstrong and Andrew Ellson, 02 October 2021

Chemists have given warning that the fuel and haulage crisis is affecting supplies of vital medicines to pharmacies as ministers announced that the army would begin delivering petrol from Monday.

In a sign that the government believes that shortages will continue for several weeks, about a hundred army drivers will be deployed to forecourts after undergoing training this week.

Ministers have also written to thousands of firefighters, ambulance drivers and service personnel suggesting they take up roles driving HGVs in the run-up to Christmas, angering public sector unions who said that losing drivers would put pressure on other critical services.

Downing Street announced that it was forgoing normal immigration rules to fast-track visas for 300 foreign fuel tanker drivers to come to the UK immediately. The Home Office said that the “bespoke” scheme was due to the “exceptional circumstances” of the current crisis.

The 300 workers will form part of the 5,000 foreign HGV drivers the government has already said will be granted visas. Drivers will now be allowed to stay until February 28 rather than Christmas Eve, while a similar scheme for poultry workers has been extended to New Year’s Eve.

Rod McKenzie, of the Road Haulage Association, said that the extension was “not much help” and accused ministers of “lurching from an unworkable idea to one that’s slightly less unappealing to foreign drivers — but only just”.

The move comes amid growing evidence that the HGV shortages, along with fuel supply problems, are spreading to other critical parts of the economy. Pharmacy chiefs said that some scheduled deliveries had been “interrupted” as a result of fuel shortages and a nationwide lack of drivers.

Although they said that it had not “generally” impacted on patients’ access to treatment, they called on ministers to ensure that the situation did not worsen. Andrew Lane, chairman of the National Pharmacy Association, said: “A resilient medicines supply chain is obviously vital to the health of the nation, so it’s important this isn’t allowed to escalate into a widespread problem that impacts patient care.”

Government sources insist that the problems are localised and that so far they are not affecting patient care. But it is understood there are significant concerns in Whitehall that medicine supplies could be interrupted next week if a solution is not found.

Pharmacists around the country have said that deliveries are being cancelled at short notice. One senior pharmacist said that delayed deliveries had been an issue since August — “If one driver is off they can’t get any agency drivers.” However, they stressed that most shops had buffer stocks to cope with a “day or two” of delay.

Healthcare organisations criticised the government for writing to firefighters, ambulance drivers and service personnel suggesting they take up roles driving HGVs. They were among the million holders of the class C driving licence to receive a letter from Baroness Vere of Norbiton, the transport minister, highlighting the “fantastic opportunities” of driving delivery lorries including “attractive pay rates” and “flexible hours”.

“There are fantastic HGV driving opportunities in the logistics industry and conditions of employment and pay have been improving across the sector,” she wrote. “There has never been a better time to find the type of HGV driving job you want.”

Dr Susan Crossland, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said sending the letter was “short-sighted”. “For it [the government] to seek to raid healthcare at such a desperate time for staff and patients is indicative of its out of touch perspective,” she said.

Colm Porter, the national officer at Unison, told Mailonline: “Enticing scarce staff away will pile pressure on to the service, resulting in long 999 wait times with potentially deadly consequences.”

The Department for Transport said: “We categorically don’t want emergency service drivers to change jobs, or to be diverted from their vital work.”

The average stock level for fuel in forecourts across the UK remains at just above 20 per cent but there are signs that it is improving in some areas and ministers insisted that more fuel was now being delivered than sold.

The northwest and East Midlands yesterday moved from red to amber on Whitehall’s internal analysis of fuel shortages. The East Midlands, East of England, London and the southeast remain red. Northern Ireland is the only green area, with fuel levels of more than 40 per cent.

Meanwhile, retailers said that demand for frozen turkeys was surging because shoppers feared that shortages could threaten Christmas dinner.

Waitrose said that it had already had 25,000 Christmas delivery slots booked, more than twice as many as this time last year, with customers fearing that otherwise they might miss out.

HDA UK Media and Political Bulletin – 4 October 2021

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