Just as everyone was reaching for their sunglasses, the Guardian reported how GPs had already been told to start ordering flu vaccine stocks for next winter.

The paper said chief medical officer for England Dame Sally Davies had demanded “big increases” in flu vaccine take-up, after figures revealed less than 35 per cent of health and social care workers had the jab this winter. The uptake among vulnerable groups, apart from babies, was also only just over 50 per cent.

Meanwhile, the Daily Mail revealed the number of prescriptions for anti-obesity drugs supplied by the NHS had risen 11-fold over a decade.

It quoted figures from the NHS Information Centre, showing GPs write almost 1.5 million prescriptions each year for the drugs, at a cost of £47m.

The Mail said 127,000 anti-obesity prescriptions were written in England in 1999 compared with 1.45m in 2009.

Royal College of GPs chair Clare Gerada told the paper that doctors “always” advocated healthy eating and exercise but “some patients need additional help”.

The Sunday Times suggested doctors could soon be prescribing placebos to save the NHS money.

It claimed commissioning consortia will turn to placebos to drive down costs, and quoted a German medical association study that urged that country’s doctors to use more placebos to stretch its healthcare budget.

A DH spokesman told the paper that NHS doctors were free to prescribe placebos, but British Medical Association ethics committee chair Tony Calland said if doctors thought a prescription had no therapeutic value ‘they shouldn’t be using it’.

The paper quoted NHS Alliance chair Michael Dixon, as saying: “I’m a great fan of using placebos, provided you tell the patient that’s what you’re doing.”