Confusion over mass vaccination sites leaves GP practices fielding 'hundreds of calls'

Practices have faced an ‘avalanche’ of calls from patients after the opening of mass vaccination sites left many confused over where to go for COVID-19 jabs - putting patient care at risk, GPs have warned.

Mass vaccination site at Wembley (Photo: Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images)
Mass vaccination site at Wembley (Photo: Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images)

In a letter to MPs seen by GPonline, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire LMC said that GP surgeries were fielding ‘hundreds of calls’ from patients about COVID-19 vaccination appointments - leaving patients calling for other reasons struggling to get through.

Confusion among patients offered vaccinations at more than one location has resulted in some cancelling vaccine appointments or simply not turning up - wasting hours of time spent by practice teams booking in patients, GPs have warned.

GPs also said the speed of vaccine rollout at GP-led local vaccination sites had been ‘severely restricted’ by the decision to direct some supplies to the larger mass vaccination centres - with local teams at times ‘sitting idle’ because vaccine deliveries had dried up.

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Local GP leaders have called for operational planning and communication to be managed in a ‘coherent and constructive way’ to ensure that patients are not put at risk and NHS resources are not wasted.

In a letter to South West Hertfordshire MP Gagan Mohindra, LMC representatives said: ‘As a result of the confusion caused by the creation of these new vaccination centres without adequate communication, practices are experiencing an avalanche of contacts with their patients, the vast majority of whom are elderly and vulnerable.

‘Practices [are] receiving hundreds of calls from concerned patients who are unsure if the new centre will affect where they get their first or second dose of vaccine. Patients [also think] that their GP is no longer delivering vaccination now that the mass site has opened and so cancelling their appointment or just not turning up.’

They added: ‘All of these examples ultimately result in a significant amount of GP and administrative time being consumed which could otherwise be focused on direct patient care.

GP practices under pressure

‘Practice phone lines [are] becoming blocked, which prevents other patients who need to contact the practice for health reasons from being able to get through. This results in delays in the delivery of care and has a knock-on effect on the wider health care system.’

The LMC also questioned the decision to create vaccination sites at community pharmacies in Watford despite a number of options already available in the area. It said it was not clear where the need for additional capacity had been identified.

'With the available vaccine being diverted to the new mass vaccination and pharmacy sites it means that the supply of vaccine to the PCN sites has been severely restricted, often at very short notice. This lack of supply means that the PCN site infrastructure is often left sitting idle, while a new vaccination centre is established down the road, duplicating resources, and causing confusion to patients.'

GP leaders added that practice teams had only heard about the opening of mass vaccination centres via social media, national news or patients, which was unhelpful to their operations. They said: ‘This lack of communication and transparency about local plans shows a deep disrespect for the GP providers, and has caused huge confusion for patients and staff alike.'

GP-led vaccination sites in England were recently offered an additional £10 for administering the COVID-19 vaccine to housebound patients in a bid to ensure greater access for the most vulnerable. Close to 11m people in England and 12.6m UK-wide had received a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of 8 February.

GPonline reported in January that primary care network (PCN) leaders were concerned about the rapid launch of mass vaccination centres, fearing they would lead to confusion for patients and primary care staff.

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