NHS left in crisis ‘after ad budget for jabs was slashed’

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Maggie Throup, who was responsible for the vaccination programme until September last year, said: “The message hasn’t got through and we’re seeing the result in the numbers in hospital with flu and Covid. This has a knock-on effect for the whole NHS.”

The Department of Health spent £3million on publicity to promote flu and Covid booster vaccinations in the run-up to Christmas, down from £11.5million the year before.

Free flu vaccines were offered to everyone over 50 in the autumn but the offer was taken up by just 35 per cent of people – around one in three – aged 50 to 64 who are not at risk due to a pre-existing condition. Even among those deemed to be at clinical risk, only 57 per cent of people in the 50 to 64 age group have received the flu vaccine.

A Covid autumn booster campaign began in early September but only 42 per cent of people in their 50s were vaccinated by the end of December, along with 61 per cent of those aged 60 to 64.

The figures were published in response to questions from Ms Throup, now a backbench MP. She said: “There are a lot of flu cases in hospital and quite a lot of Covid cases.

“That suggests vaccine uptake is low, otherwise we would be more protected, and that is why I asked the questions. “The impact in hospitals affects patients with other conditions such as heart attacks, strokes and so on.

“People think Covid has gone away and there is vaccine fatigue as well. Flu is also a big problem and this was always anticipated.”

She revealed health experts warned ministers last year to expect a surge in influenza cases after the flu season began early in Australia.

There was also concern that rising energy bills meant households were likely to cut down on heating, she said.

More than 6,000 hospital beds were occupied by flu patients at the start of January, NHS data show. The latest figure is 2,739 beds.

The number of hospital beds occupied by people with confirmed cases of Covid was more than 9,500 at the end of December and is currently 6,200.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Our phenomenal Covid-19 vaccination programme has been a huge success.

“More than 167 million jabs have been given in the UK in just two years, and more than 20 million people have already had their flu jab.

“We are doing everything we can to help the NHS through winter, including rolling out around 34 million Covid and flu booster vaccines.”

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