BLUNDERING bureaucrats have spent Â£200million earmarked for hospital buildings on doses of the swine flu jab that will never be used.
Up to 132 million doses of the vaccine were ordered at the height of the panic over the H1N1 virus in 2009. But earlier this month it emerged that only 13 million doses had been delivered and more than four million were used on patients – three per cent of the total.
Now it is feared the millions of doses still on order cannot be stopped because officials forgot to add a cancel clause to the contract.
Yesterday the Department of Health admitted it had raided the coffers for hospital buildings and equipment – called the capital budget – “to meet existing commitments on pandemic flu”. Officials insisted that no projects had been axed due to the diverted cash.
But last night Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said it was outrageous that such a simple mistake would cost the NHS and the taxpayer so much money. He said: “Because there was no break clause in the GlaxoSmithKline contract, hundreds of millions will be spent on a vaccine for which the government has no use.”
“Today it has been revealed that the Government will take Â£200million out of the capital budget to pay for this. Who in the Government is going to take responsibility for this gross mistake in procurement? Which NHS Capital project was cut to pay for this?”
Ministers have refused to say how much money it spent on the swine flu contract with pharmaceutical giants GlaxoSmithKline and Baxter. But other nations have spent up to Â£9 per dose. Just months after the order for 132 million vaccines was signed providing enough for two jabs per person, it emerged that only one dose was needed to provide protection and that 66 million doses would have been ample.
The swine flu pandemic began to slow in autumn last year, despite Government warnings just months before that up to 65,000 could die in a “worst case scenario”. In fact, only 309 people have died of swine flu and most had underlying health conditions. Only 53 were killed by swine flu alone.
Although 14 million people were advised they should get vaccinated, only 4.5 million have taken up the offer. A bid to vaccinate all under-fives has also failed, with only 500,000 out of three million children having the jab.
And earlier this month, the flu threat faded to such low levels that the Health Department decided to close the National Pandemic Flu Service hotline and website. Most flu experts believe that a second wave of the virus in the spring is also unlikely although a revival next winter could occur.
Last night, a Health Department spokesman said the vaccines had been an “insurance policy”. “We can categorically confirm that no capital projects were cut as a result of the transfer,” he said.
“Ordering a vaccine and antivirals, and communicating how people can protect themselves from the pandemic, has been a worthwhile insurance policy that has undoubtedly saved lives. Every life saved from swine flu is worthwhile.”
In recent weeks, Germany has successfully negotiated a cut in its order for swine flu jabs by 30 per cent. Other countries are still negotiating.