Queensland Health confirms details of free flu shot after mass confusion

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Queensland Health said it would reimburse GPs for privately purchased flu shots after medical practices were caught off guard by the government’s free flu initiative and raised fears they could be left out side.

It comes after GP clinics were caught off guard on Monday when the state government announced through the media that all Queenslanders could access a free flu shot until June 30 from their GP or their pharmacy.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the state government had earmarked up to $40 million for the scheme which covered people aged 6 to 64.

GP clinics were unsure whether the cost of flu shots they had already purchased but given during the free vaccination period would be reimbursed and were rushing for clarification on Tuesday as they were inundated with people seeking the free shot .

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath told ABC’s Breakfast Radio Brisbane on Tuesday that the government would cover the cost of these vaccines.

But late Tuesday, Queensland Health did not provide reimbursement information for previously purchased flu shots in response to questions from the ABC.

He confirmed in a document distributed to GPs on Tuesday evening that their clinics would be reimbursed for privately purchased shares, saying more information on how reimbursements would work would be provided.

Acting Chief Health Officer Peter Aitken said in a letter from Queensland Health on Wednesday morning that the state government would reimburse practices for privately purchased flu shots from May 24 to June 30, at cost $21.95 per dose.

The program does not change anything for people who receive free flu shots under the national immunization program – people aged 65 and over, pregnant women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, children six months to five years old and people with medical conditions.

Doctors caught off guard by announcement

Maria Boulton, chair of the Australian Medical Association’s Queensland Council of General Practitioners, and Bruce Willet, faculty chair of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Queensland, said while they welcomed the initiative, medical clinics General had not received any information prior to the announcement in the media.

Dr Boulton and Dr Willett said medical practice receptionists had been inundated with calls from patients asking for the free vaccine as they tried to determine which vaccines could be given for free, provided and whether they would be reimbursed for the stock purchased.

Brisbane GP Maria Boulton said GPs were awaiting clarification before handing out free flu shots.(ABC News: Emma Pollard)

Dr Boulton said GPs had a private stock of vaccines as well as vaccines given to them under the National Immunization Programme.

She said they didn’t know which ones to use.

“I think what GPs have been waiting for is written confirmation and details,” Dr Boulton said.

“We would have liked this all to have been sorted out before the media announcement was made, to avoid any confusion.”

A man in a black shirt looks at the camera
Bruce Willett says receptionists dealt with patient abuse due to a lack of information.(ABC News: Emma Pollard)

Receptionists clash with cops from the public

Ms D’Ath defended the rollout in parliament, saying the state government had communicated with key bodies representing GPs and pharmacists, including AMAQ and RACGP, and would continue to do so.

She said the government had sought advice from departmental public health officials on the consequences of people delaying vaccinations, if they had instead announced the initiative in advance.

“The consequences of that would have been people delaying their vaccine until they could access it for free,” she said.

“What’s important is that people have flocked to GPs and pharmacies across the state.”

Dr Willett said receptionists were bearing the brunt of the frustration over this issue.

“They are run over and abused because they don’t know what’s going on when nobody told us,” he said.

Dr Willett said there had been frantic communications with Queensland Health on Tuesday seeking confirmation of how reimbursement would be distributed to GPs.

Discovered on social networks

an image of Angie Walker, head of the Warwick Road medical practice, in front of a flowering hedge
Angie Walker, Warwick Road medical practice manager, said GPs had not been told how the vaccines would be paid for.(Provided: Angie Walker)

Warwick Road medical practice manager Angie Walker said she heard about the free flu shot initiative on social media.

She said that while it sounded like a wonderful plan, she wanted to know who would pay for the doses already in practice.

“All we have is a handshake-like agreement that the government will compensate GPs and pharmacies for the cost, but we don’t know how that’s going to work, there’s no policy, there is no procedure, there is no process in place,” she said.

There have already been more than 7,825 cases of flu in Queensland this year, with more than 150 people in hospital and 10 in intensive care.

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