The British Association of Pharmaceutical Wholesalers (BAPW) has urged the government in England to follow Scotland and adopt a "holistic" distribution model for seasonal vaccine procurement.

Such an approach encourages greater communication and collaboration within the medicine supply chain, says the Association, which represents full-line wholesalers, in its response to the Department of Health's consultation on the procurement of seasonal flu vaccine.  Adoption of elements of the model used in Scotland would assure the security of vaccine supply and reduce the risk of stock shortages, the group adds.

In Scotland, community pharmacists liaise with local GP practices to agree the amount of flu vaccine stock that the practices will require, a practice which removes the burden from individual GPs and allows a carefully-managed, localised approach, the wholesalers group tells the Department.

Community pharmacies in Scotland are also required to divide orders between at least three pharmaceutical manufacturers to ensure that any supply issues with one source can be managed and will not lead to a supply failure, while financial incentives are also in place which reward GPs for effective purchasing of vaccine supplies, and help to reduce the risk of stock shortages or surpluses, it adds.

Introducing a similar model in England would help protect the supply of flu vaccines when they are most in need, says the BAPW.

"The government's proposed changes will actually serve to weaken the medicine supply chain," warns the Association's executive director, Martin Sawer. "We recommend that the government examines the Scottish system, which would ensure a holistic distribution model that encourages better communication between full-line pharmaceutical wholesalers, pharmaceutical manufacturers, community pharmacy and local GP practices," he said.

Mr Sawer also commented that the government's consultation is largely focused on the procurement arrangements and does not go into the mechanics of how the government intends to distribute the vaccine. However, "the delivery of vaccines represents an essential component of the process and needs to be carefully considered before any changes are made," he said.

- On August 17, the Department closed its consultation on proposals to introduce a central purchasing system for the seasonal flu vaccine. These plans aim to reduce the burden on GPs and save the NHS up to an estimated £40 million a year.