The process for booking Covid booster jabs should be more ‘flexible’ to help keep the NHS from breaching a ‘tipping point’, the NHS Confederation has said, as leaders warn primary care is their ‘greatest area of concern’ in the health and care system.
In a survey of 451 primary care, ICS and trust leaders, 48% told the Confederation that the challenges facing primary care were their ‘greatest concern’.
Meanwhile, nearly nine in 10 (88%) reported that the demands on their services are ‘unsustainable’, with 87% citing that the NHS’ staffing crisis is putting patient safety at risk.
‘As winter months lead to the increased transmission of viruses, easy access and a simple, flexible process to deliver vaccines at scale is our best line of defence,’ the NHS Confederation, who conducted the survey, said.
It added: ‘Although we welcome the recent uptick in bookings to receive the booster, for the NHS to continue to play its part in the rollout and ensure this reaches the right people over the coming months, including those less likely to come forward, the process needs to be as flexible as possible.’
To achieve this, NHS IT systems need to be capable of sharing ‘accurate data’ across the system so that services know ‘where the gaps remain and in what communities’.
It also said that there needs to be effective communication at a local level, as well as ‘improved links’ between the national and local booking systems to keep it easy for patients to access booking information.
‘Clear communication and involvement with voluntary and community organisations will be particularly important for people with severe mental illness (SMI) who are included in priority group six and may find accessing care more challenging,’ it said.
Measures such as these would help policymakers introduce ‘more targeted’ engagement to encourage people in groups which may be overlooked or have lower uptake.
This would be necessary to ensure the NHS can continue to treat patients urgently and provide high quality services across the system.
It comes as the latest data shows that since the booster programme launched in September, 9.6 million people in England have received a third shot.
Earlier this week, national data revealed that clinically vulnerable people who are vaccine hesitant are less likely to change their minds and receive a Covid jab than non-clinically vulnerable people.
Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the RCGP, told Management in Practice: ‘It’s clear that public information campaigns advising people of the importance of getting their booster jabs and how to get them work, so it’s vital these are stepped up – and that it is made as easy as possible for people to access these vaccinations.’
Last week, the DHSC announced that these practices can now administer some boosters five months after a patients’ second vaccine dose to help with co-administering flu vaccines.
By cutting the wait between doses from six months to five, some vulnerable groups including housebound patients will be able to receive the flu and Covid vaccines in a single appointment, it said.