Meeting the national target of vaccinating all four priority cohorts has been a ‘huge success’ for primary care, practice managers have said.
The NHS met the national target of offering the vaccine to the first four priority groups – around 15 million patients – after it administered 505,362 vaccines across the country on Saturday.
The target, set out by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, urged the NHS to offer the vaccine to everyone over the age of 70 and those deemed clinically extremely vulnerable by today (15 February), in line with the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s (JCVI) recommendations.
The programme kicked off in primary care in early December – and has since been expanded to include mass vaccination centres and community pharmacy sites.
It is now shifting into the next phase, with PCN sites told to ‘focus their efforts’ on people aged 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions, and the over 65s due to be invited for an appointment at the large-scale centres and pharmacies, via the national booking service.
To mark this milestone in the programme, Management in Practice spoke to three practice managers about their involvement so far and their expectations going forward.
Nicola Davies, practice manager at The Roseland Surgeries, Truro
Nicola Davies said that while not without its challenges, part of the success of the campaign so far has been down to the ‘great response’ from practice staff, volunteers and patients.
‘That we’ve managed to vaccinate so many people in such a short space of time, is a huge, huge success for primary care and everybody working in the field,’ she said.
She added: ‘Hand on heart, I could say every practice manager in this country is doing absolutely what they can to get hold of patients.’
Going forward, as younger cohorts become eligible for vaccination, Ms Davies, who is also a co-founder of the Institute of General Practice Management (IGPM), is confident there will be more opportunity to contact patients in different ways.
She said: ‘The more patients we have with mobile phones, email addresses, things like that, [the more] we can make attempts to contact them in different ways.’
However, she added that practices and patients will need to be wary of scam texts.
‘A few weeks ago, a message was taking patients through a series of links that looked spot on, until the point where it said: “please enter your details”,’ she said.
Ms Davies recorded the link and alerted patients via a local resident website.
‘You do that scattergun approach and hope that the more people I can tell, the more they will tell other people as well,’ she added.
Aditya Kohli, practice business manager, Manchester
Aditya Kohli said being able to meet Government targets, even as the information primary care receives ‘keeps on changing’, has been one of the key successes so far.
He added that occasional staff shortages and the Pfizer vaccine’s storage conditions have been a challenge, as has not knowing for certain when a delivery is coming.
Delays or issues with deliveries occur ‘once every two weeks’, Mr Kohli said.
‘It means we can’t book patients in, or we have to cancel patients. You could have all the staff ready and then the vaccines just change at the last minute.’
Despite this, the vaccination sites Mr Kohli oversees met their targets.
‘The success is that it all reduces down to team effort and communication,’ he said.
He added that staff ‘from every level from the receptionist to the doctors’ were able to perform so well under pressure because they were able to adapt.
Ann Stewart, practice manager at St Gabriel’s Medical Centre, Prestwich
Ann Stewart told Management in Practice that the four vaccination sites in Bury, which her team is responsible for managing, will soon begin to receive second doses for their patients.
This is likely to present new challenges, she said, not least because the Pfizer vaccine requires patients to remain for a 15-minute observation period – and the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine does not.
‘I’m sure that’s going to add another layer of complexity around getting vaccine to the right places at the right time,’ she said.
‘Are we going to parallel [first doses] with some of this work, because in theory, you can’t stop for the next few weeks to do catch-ups on seconds, and not carry on with the firsts,’ she added.
Ms Stewart also said the planning and scheduling of vaccine delivery ‘has been a bit bumpy’, with the sites she oversees ‘often having to wait until a ‘Wednesday to know what you’re getting on the Monday’.
But her team have learned lessons from their clinics shared ideas with others and ‘each and every one of us would say that the success of the programme in Bury has far outweighed any of the challenges that we’ve all overcome’, Ms Stewart said.
‘I think everybody that’s ever worked on a [vaccination] site would just say that the smiles and the gratitude from the patients that have come through our door so far from their families and for their carers, it is actually quite overwhelming,’ she added.
‘It is quite an emotional experience to work on the site and just to see how grateful patients are.’