GPs and practice staff in Northwich PCN faced a huge 'logistical headache' as they tried to maintain progress on COVID-19 vaccination as the north-west of England saw one of the wettest three-day periods on record.
Storm Christoph dumped 100mm of rain over parts of the UK - with rainfall equivalent to an average month falling between 18-20 January in Cheshire - flooding the centre of Northwich town.
Luisa Garlick, practice manager at Oakwood Medical Centre in Cheshire, told GPonline: ‘It was a tricky couple of days, but we still managed to jab the majority of our patients who were coming into the vaccination centre and our surgeries.’
Mrs Garlick, joint operational lead for the Northwich vaccination programme, said severe weather warnings sprung local health teams into action, with the CCG helping practices to prepare for potential disruption.
‘It’s the worst it’s ever been - the whole of our town was under water. We have a river running through the middle of the town... but it was the drainage system that backed up and couldn’t cope,' she said.
‘Two days previous to the bad rain we had meetings with the CCG, who had pre-warned us about the weather, and we put the contingencies into plan. It took about two days to set up, but with the weather we couldn’t take the risk - you don’t know how bad it is going to be.'
Prior to the bad weather Mrs Garlick says efforts by Northwich PCN to vaccinate patients were going well, with the seven practices in the network - covering 74,000 people - vaccinating most of their first and second cohort patients.
In the week before the bad weather hit, practices were given permission to move vaccines to individual surgeries, enabling them to establish ‘mop up’ clinics to complete the first two priority groups. Practices had already arranged to work separately after one of the larger surgeries in the PCN ‘booked out’ the central vaccination site.
The multi-site approach made it easier for GPs to work through the extreme weather and minimise disruption - patients also had shorter journeys for jabs. However, one surgery in the centre of town was forced to rearrange vaccine appointments for the next weekend after its electricity was switched off as a precaution - no vaccines were being kept there at that point.
With the vaccines safe in six of the seven practice fridges, Mrs Garlick said GPs and their teams ploughed ahead with their work during the flooding, managing to vaccinate close to 1,000 patients over a two-day period.
‘Around 600 patients were seen through the central vaccination centre, and the rest were done back in small mop up clinics. If we had been doing all of the vaccinations out of the vaccination centre we probably would have struggled with people having to travel in. Whereas by doing them back in practice it was probably easier because our patients were travelling locally to us like a normal immunisation,' she said.
‘There were a few patients that obviously couldn’t get in, so we rearranged their appointments for the following week, which they were happy about. It was a bit of a logistical headache for a few days but we managed it.' She pointed out that the practices were fortunate to be using the easier-to-store Oxford/Astra Zeneca vaccine.
Mrs Garlick noted that staff handled the situation 'really well', with the team creating a Whatsapp group to make sure people stayed safe while they traveled to work. Patients were also happy to travel to sites despite the weather.
‘A lot of them turned up and were quite happy, but we put them in a situation where they didn't have to pass any flooded road - we didn’t want to put any additional pressure on the emergency services. Patients were so keen to get the vaccine,' she said.
Following the bad weather Mrs Garlick says the practices are ready for the second round of jabs as they push to complete all vaccinations from cohorts one to four. She says: ‘I think we are making real headway now, which feels really positive and feels really good when you’ve been through it from the beginning.’