Asking GP practices to reschedule the second dose of Covid vaccine for patients will prove ‘logistically dangerous’, practice manager body, the Institute of General Practice Management (IGPM), has warned.
In a letter to health secretary Matt Hancock (1 January), the newly-formed body expressed concerns over the recent policy change to delay the interval between vaccine doses from three weeks to up to 12.
It said that the Government’s decision to push back the second Covid jab for patients who have already had the first dose is ‘inappropriate’ and will cause an administrative burden for practices who will have to cancel and rebook patients.
The practice managers added that making the announcement on 31 December – before a bank holiday weekend – was ‘irresponsible and impossible for primary care to manage, without further detriment to our already overstretched workforce’.
‘The IGPM represents over 1,000 managers in general practice who feel this decision was made with no consultation with frontline management. It will prove to be logistically dangerous to ask practices that are already working at full capacity to cancel and rebook patients, in some cases with less than eight working hours’ notice,’ the letter said.
‘Our experience proves that the Monday after a festive break is the busiest of the year, [and we are] in the middle of a pandemic, where our patients are already anxious.’
It also urged the health secretary to involve the ‘views, knowledge, and expertise’ of practice managers in pandemic planning and vaccination decisions.
‘Operationally very difficult’
The chief medical officers (CMOs) said in a statement on 31 December that the new dosing schedule will mean twice as many people can get vaccinated over the next two to three months – though they will have around 70% protection until the second jab.
Following advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), the statement said that this model is preferred to one where half as many people are vaccinated during this period, but given the highest level of protection.
The CMOs acknowledged that re-scheduling second appointments is ‘operationally very difficult and will ‘distress patients who were looking forward to being fully immunised’.
But they added: ‘We have to follow public health principles and act at speed if we are to beat this pandemic which is running rampant in our communities and we believe the public will understand and thank us for this decisive action. We hope this has your support.’
In a bulletin sent to primary care staff (31 December), NHS England also recognised that the request to reschedule appointments was ‘operationally very difficult, especially at short notice’.
It outlined a package of support to be delivered via CCGs, including making £1,000 available to first wave PCN sites to support with administrative costs in rescheduling appointments and providing access to a call centre which can be used to contact patients affected by the change.
‘Unfair to patients’
The BMA said that patients who were booked in for a second dose of the Covid vaccine were made a ‘promise’ and that it is ‘grossly unfair’ for those appointments to be delayed.
Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA chair, said those booked appointments should be respected, and that ‘if GPs decide to honour these booked appointments in January the BMA will support them’.
He added: ‘Local leaders are telling us that it is unprofessional and impractical to amend the appointments for thousands of frail elderly patients, particularly those booked and who have already made arrangements to have their second vaccination in the next two weeks.
‘The decision to ask GPs, at such short notice, to rebook patients for three months hence, will also cause huge logistical problems for almost all vaccination sites and practices. For example, to make contact with even just two thousand elderly or vulnerable patients will take a team of five staff at a practice about a week, and that’s simply untenable.’
‘Massive u-turn in strategy’
Some GPs and primary care leaders have also expressed dismay online over the short notice and implications of the change, which will in some cases mean rebooking thousands of appointments.