Pharmacists are justifiably upset about some GPs who have put up posters and/or have emailed patients, telling them that they should use the GP surgery’s flu vaccination service to keep the money in the NHS and to protect the doctors’ income! A photo of one such sign, posted on Twitter, begins:


The question, still in capital letters, continues in bold red:

Did you also know that if you have your vaccination done at a pharmacy all profits go to that company and are not fed back into the NHS as they are if you are vaccinated at your doctors surgery??

This kind of hysterical response from GPs does the medical profession no favours. Do GPs believe patients are so naïve that they will think their doctors provide a vaccination service out of the goodness of their hearts, and don’t get paid for it? Of course GPs should be paid for providing vaccination services. But they should not pretend to patients that their practices are charities.

What’s more, GPs should not make out that they virtuous but pharmacists are not. Just because GPs don’t provide services from retail premises, doesn’t mean they aren’t running businesses.

The GMC’s guide, Good medical practice says doctors “must treat colleagues fairly and with respect”. There’s nothing respectful about implying that colleagues in another healthcare profession are just out for profit and have no regard for patients or the NHS. The GMC’s guide also says that doctors must not allow any interests they have to affect the way they refer or commission services for patients” and that they must be open about conflicts of interest.. The GMC’s separate guidance on Financial and commercial arrangements and conflicts of interest tells doctors they must not try to influence patients’ choice of healthcare service to benefit themselves.

In my view, posters that disparage pharmacies and imply that pharmacies only provide ‘flu vaccination services to pocket NHS money, whereas GPs plough all their remuneration into NHS services, are untruthful and a breach of the GMC’s guidance. It shouldn’t be necessary to report doctors to the GMC except as a last resort. GPs are required by their contracts to provide appropriate advice about immunisation to patients. When they provide inappropriate advice, NHS England should be told about the posters and asked to tell GPs to take them down.

This article was originally publish in Chemist & Druggist, October 2015.