Free flu jab decree takes GPs by surprise (updated)

4 minute read

The RACGP says Queensland will reimburse GPs for their stock, but it’s yet another announcement without details, consultation or warning.

GPs were once again left scrambling for details, after Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced yesterday that flu jabs would be free for every resident from today through to June 30.  

WEDNESDAY UPDATE: Queensland Health this morning announced it would reimburse GPs $21.95 per dose. When and how are yet to be finalised.

In addition to the $40 million that Ms Palaszczuk committed for the free influenza vaccines in Queensland, she also hinted at a “significant injection” of health funding in the state’s upcoming budget.  

Given that many GP practices have only recently placed orders of private stock, there was also a fair amount of frustration from practices which had seemingly just wasted thousands of dollars. 

This all comes just days after the state’s Deputy Premier copped heat for blaming GPs for hospital ramping

Ah, Queensland. 

While Queensland Health initially told The Medical Republic that the state was not planning to reimburse GPs for the purchase of private stock now that it had made the vaccine free, the RACGP says otherwise.  

“The good news is that we’ve at least verbally gotten from Queensland Health an agreement to refund GPs the cost of those private stocks,” RACGP Queensland Chair Dr Bruce Willett said. 

“GPs can go ahead and give those private shots to patients, and they can claim payment back from Queensland Health.” 

Dr Willett said that while the college applauds Queensland Health on the initiative given the “catastrophic” flu season, the execution of the announcement was poor. 

GPs by and large heard about the policy only after it was announced, normally via practice reception staff who had suddenly received an influx of calls.   

“It’s making the vaccine rollout last year look seamless,” Dr Willett told TMR

Moreover, there was no consultation with general practice groups, according to Dr Willett.  

“We’re obviously really upset about the lack of communication, but the initiative itself is good and they’ve agreed to allow practices to recoup the cost of vaccines,” he said.  

Brisbane GP Dr Jared Dart said his practice had been so caught off guard by Ms Palaszczuk’s announcement that reception staff had been left with no choice but to tell patients who rang up requesting a free flu vaccine that they would text when one was available.  

“Every time there’s a poorly thought-out knee-jerk policy, our receptionists cop it, our nurses have to do extra work and owners like me have to spend our time responding to what is essentially a public administration failure,” he told TMR.  

“There is already marginal financial sustainability for general practice, this just adds another blow.” 

Dr Dart’s Taringa practice currently has around 250 vaccines which it purchased privately, for its patients who are normally not eligible for government funded vaccines. 

With very little detail from the government on what’s meant to happen next, he is “in the dark” about what to do with them. 

“It’s arguable whether a mass vaccination strategy like this is Medicare-eligible, and if we do use Medicare, the most [fitting] item would be an item three, which is $17.70,” Dr Dart said. 

“That is significantly less than the covid vaccine numbers, which were at best breakeven or, if you did them at scale, slightly sustainable.” 

Ultimately, he said, this just adds to the burden that GPs have been carrying since the beginning of the pandemic.  

“I have some senior colleagues who have been GPs for a long time who’ve called me and talked to me and said, ‘Look, this feels like the final straw on the camel’s back’,” Dr Dart said.  

“We’ve given and we’ve given and we’ve given and we’ve given and the tank is empty, and now we get this dumped on us.” 

Queensland might have been the first state to announce a free jab policy, but chances are that other states will soon join.  

Like clockwork, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard confirmed today that the state was “looking at doing something similar” to Queensland and would have further information over the next week.  

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