The shortage of flu vaccines and the DHSSPS's public handling of the situation has caused anger amongst many of Northern Ireland's GPs.
Monday 4th October 2004, was to have seen the beginning of a flu immunisation programme for the province but due to the unavailability of supplies, many GPs' surgeries have had to cancel planned vaccination clinics.
Dr Eugene Deeny, Treasurer of the BMA's GPs committee says that many doctors here are furious at the Department's handling of the situation. "It was bad enough when doctors learned that there was going to be a serious shortage of the flu vaccine, despite this immunisation programme being easily planned for 12 months in advance. However, when the Department announced through the media last week that an additional 60,000 vaccines were to be made available so that programmes could start today as planned, it neglected to advise GPs as to where, when or how these supplies could be obtained.
"Nor was it made clear publicly that 60,000 vaccines is simply a drop in the ocean when surgeries in Northern Ireland need, on average, around 300 vaccines each to carry out the programme.
"Many GPs have had to cancel their vaccination clinics through sheer lack of supply. My own practice had to cancel clinics scheduled from today because we had absolutely no supplies of the vaccine."
Doctors are also furious that the DHSSPS is telling patients that GPs will prioritise need for the immunisation. Dr Deeny continues: "The Department blithely asserts that the vaccination can go ahead despite only a pitiful amount of supplies being available and that doctors will prioritise patients most at risk. This is quite a challenge when the at risk group itself is so large and the supply so small.
"It is outrageous that the Department of Health is issuing press statements to the effect that a very bad situation, which it could have prevented with proper planning in the first place, is being managed well by them, when in fact the opposite is true."