Seven large-scale vaccination sites began inviting thousands of people aged 80 and over - along with health and care staff - for COVID-19 vaccination from 11 January as part of government plans to ramp up the vaccination programme.
However, family doctors have labelled the project ‘insane and absurd’ at a time when GP-led sites are struggling to secure sufficient supplies of vaccine themselves, with patients 'waiting on the doorstep’ to be inoculated.
GPs have also warned that invitation letters sent to all over 80s living close to the mass vaccination centres is a ‘recipe for confusion’ and have already started fielding calls from patients. GPs have urged the government to let them get on with the job.
Vaccine supply issues
GPs have reported problems with the delivery of COVID vaccines as orders have been pushed back multiple times or cancelled at short notice - forcing surgeries to reschedule or cancel appointments.
Last week the RCGP warned the government that last-minute changes to vaccine supply schedules had to be kept to a minimum, and that a ‘sustained supply of vaccines’ would be needed to achieve the target of 2m jabs a week.
But GPs have argued that the launch of seven mass vaccination sites this week compounds problems for surgeries unable to vaccinate patients because of delivery chaos, despite having patients ready and waiting.
Watford GP Dr Simon Hodes, who is a joint PCN lead for his practice, told GPonline he was worried about patient care amid confusion over where they should get vaccinated. He said: ‘Letters have been sent out centrally to patients without any GP involvement, including some of our patients who have already got vaccine appointments booked in and they are now calling our practice up confused saying: "Where am I having my vaccine done?".
‘Our patients are being offered a vaccine in Stevenage, we live in Watford - they would much rather come to the local surgery that they know and trust and is right round the corner. And also, why are we encouraging patients to travel around during a lockdown?’
Dr Hodes added that the government’s weak test and trace programme and early problems with shielding lists, exemplified why GPs should be left to organise vaccine appointments.
He said: ‘There is huge capacity to ramp up what we are doing in general practice, we’ve got the buildings, we’ve got the structure, we’ve got the vaccine fridges, and the supply chains - just use what’s there. It’s beyond me why they are setting up a parallel service - it’s confusing for patients and GPs.’
Medway GP Dr Yvette Rean questioned plans to invite over 80s to mass vaccination centres in a Twitter post. She said: ‘What madness is this? I thought GPs were supposed to be getting the vaccines into the designated sites/surgeries? This is just crazy and will erode trust in general practice.’
'Patients at the door'
She tweeted again to highlight vaccine supply issues, and how it was affecting the rate of vaccinations at her site. She said: ‘ I'm in surgery this morning with a nurse, health care assistant & practice manager who can all vaccinate and there's not a jab in sight or any mention of when we will get any. We have patients at the door/phone waiting to find out when they'll get theirs.’
Oxford GP Dr Helen Salisbury also questioned the government's decision to invite all over 80s living within 45 minutes of mass vaccine sites for vaccination there. She said: ‘Rumour has it that all over 80-year-olds within striking distance of new vaccine centres have been sent invitations. Sounds like a recipe for confusion. Just give us the vaccines and we can deliver - as we do with the flu vac every year.’
Last week GPs called for COVID-19 vaccination to be 'considerably ramped up' after delays to opening new local vaccination sites and problems with deliveries. The RCGP also reported that some surgeries who had volunteered their help had not been contacted yet.
Letters are being sent out to more than 600,000 people aged 80 who live up to a 45-minute drive from one of the new centres, inviting them to book an appointment. There are approximately 1,000 vaccination sites across the country, with the vast majority - almost 800 sites - being run by GP-led services, and they are expected to deliver most of the vaccinations.