GPs plan drive-through flu clinics amid COVID-19 safety fears

GP practices are planning drive-through flu clinics to maximise uptake of jabs during the 2020/21 vaccination programme amid safety concerns in the coronavirus pandemic, GPonline has learned.

Drive-through flu clinic plan (Photo: Lord Runar/Getty Images)
Drive-through flu clinic plan (Photo: Lord Runar/Getty Images)

Some practices have already resorted to drive-through clinics for other routine immunisations as a way to boost uptake among patients who may be reluctant to attend clinics during the pandemic - and to avoid social distancing challenges.

GPs have warned that they need resources, funding and time to establish innovative ways to deliver this year’s flu programme if they are to respond to calls from NHS England for the profession to ‘maximise take up’ of flu jabs in 2020.

Senior GPs have demanded urgent clarification on the scope of this year's flu campaign after officials suggested it could be expanded - and have warned that delivering flu vaccinations this year will take 'a lot longer' than usual as practices fit the work around new ways of working adopted in response to COVID-19.

Flu vaccination

Amid the ongoing uncertainty GPs have continued with work to ensure they can deliver this year’s flu programme - and plan to use drive-through and walk-though clinics to deliver jabs.

Newham GP Dr Farzana Hussain has been running a drive-through childhood immunisations clinic to boost vaccination numbers during the pandemic. She told GPonline she was looking to use the same model to deliver the flu programme this year.

‘I've got a tiny waiting room, I can only fit 15 people in at a time. We usually have people sardined into the waiting room and do one jab after the next, but we’re just not going to be able to do that this year [because of social distancing measures],' she said.

‘We’re also expecting that more people will come this year, that's just a hunch because people are aware of infectious diseases. So we want to do a drive-through clinic for flu jabs.’

COVID-19 pandemic

Dr Hussain said she had not yet finalised details of the drive-through flu clinic, admitting that the volume of patients turning up to the surgery for a drive-through jab could be problematic.

She said that practices would need support from health bosses to come up with innovative solutions during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said: ‘I think we'll need financial support because this is going to take longer and there's going to be more nursing time involved. But we also need the support to plan.

‘I was able to set up [our existing] drive-through clinic because I've got quality improvement methodology skills that I was taught, but not everybody has that - and I think that we could do with having that sort of resource everywhere. You also need headspace to plan these things.’

Watford GP Dr Simon Hodes has been running a drive-through blood test service from his practice for the last three weeks. He told GPonline he was also considering setting up a drive-through flu clinic, but warned it may not be a viable option for all surgeries.

GP premises

‘I think we would. We are lucky because we have modern purpose-built premises, so for us personally we can probably do that in our car park. We’ve been doing drive-through blood tests for a number of weeks now, rather than people coming in the building. So a flu clinic would not be a huge change and I think the patients would take to it fine.

‘But general practice comes in different sizes and shapes, some practices might be single-handed and working out of an old building, other practices might be super-surgeries where they can use their premises in a different way. So there has to be something that works for all GPs in different settings. So we need to think creatively how we do that.'

Dr Hodes said practices would need guidance on running drive-through clinics due to challenges around social distancing and PPE. 

Ealing GP Dr Vasu Siva told GPonline that her practice would not be able to run a drive-through flu clinic due to issues with congestion. Instead they plan to operate a walk-through flu clinic, which will be appointment-based.

Patients will follow a one-way system, entering through one door and exiting through another following their jab. Dr Siva believes her practice should be able to vaccinate 200 patients a session, working with a team of 5-6 clinicians. But she admitted that they would need financial support to hire locums if any clinicians went off sick.

‘Mainly we need the man power to jab. We have a lovely building, but we need the manpower and the flu vaccines to come in. We would need funding if our clinical team is unwell as we would have to get a locum,’ she said.

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