GPs raise alarm over capacity as BMA pushes back on COVID jab deal claims

Practices in parts of England lack the capacity to carry out a COVID-19 vaccination campaign, GPs have warned - while the BMA has suggested claims from NHS England that a deal had been agreed for practices to administer the jabs were premature.

Vaccine plans (Photo: Catherine Falls Commercial/Getty Images)
Vaccine plans (Photo: Catherine Falls Commercial/Getty Images)

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens told the BBC's Today programme on 4 November that officials had 'reached agreement with the GPs' for the profession to begin administering COVID-19 vaccinations once a jab becomes available.

A letter is expected to go out to GP practices this week setting out details of the role they will be expected to play in administering a vaccine and further details are understood to be imminent.

However, BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey told GPonline that although the BMA was in the 'final stage of talks' on a deal to administer a COVID-19 vaccine, it had not been finalised.

GP capacity

Senior GPs within the committee, meanwhile, have raised concerns that they had not been consulted on the terms of the deal - and raised concerns over the capacity of general practice to take on an additional vaccination campaign at a time when GPs are already 'on their knees'. GPs have also raised concerns over the level of funding that will be available to cover practice costs.

The NHS chief executive said at an online briefing today that the 'central expectation' was that one or more of 200-plus potential vaccines currently in development will become available from early next year - but the health service had secured a deal with GPs 'on the offchance that some vaccine is available before Christmas'.

He added that rolling out the vaccination programme would not be straightforward. Sir Simon said: 'Different vaccines will have different ways of working and will pose different types of logistical challenge.

'Some of the vaccines will require a cold chain where they have to be kept at -70 degrees centigrade or below all the way through to getting into the arm of the patient. So it will be a combination of what GPs are able to do and community pharmacists.'

COVID vaccine

He added that the NHS would also set up 'mass vaccination centres' to administer some vaccine doses, with Nightingale hospital sites and other locations to be brought into play.

The NHS chief executive added that further 'roving teams' would be set up to 'prioritise care homes and social care staff and other vulnerable groups'.

Responding to reports that a deal had been completed for GPs to deliver the vaccine, Dr Vautrey said: 'GPs recognise that a COVID vaccine is a vital tool in defeating the pandemic and preventing further recurrences of the high infection rates we are seeing once again.

'GPs and their teams have a proven track record in providing large scale vaccination programmes - this year’s comprehensive flu campaign is a great example with Sir Simon Stevens stating today that "the good news is GPs are doing a brilliant job" delivering this.

GP agreement

'The BMA’s GP committee is now in the final stage of talks with NHS England and Improvement to discuss the details of how doctors and their teams can most effectively provide their patients with the COVID-19 vaccine. Crucial to the success of the programme is the need for practices to have the proper support and resources they may need. We hope that a final agreement can soon be reached for the benefits of patients and the wider society.'

BMA GP committee member Dr Kieran Sharrock wrote on Twitter that the 'agreement' announced by NHS England had 'not been discussed' with GPC England to his knowledge.

Bristol GP Dr Shaba Nabi also hit out at the announcement - calling for NHS England to explain 'why there are announcements about GPs delivering a COVID vaccination programme before Xmas when the deal hasn't even been negotiated or voted on'.

Fellow GPC member Dr Fay Wilson told GPonline that the answer to the question "are GPs the right people to do practically any community intervention" was "yes".

However, she warned: 'Do we have the capacity and can we fit it in? The answer to me plainly is "no".'

The Birmingham GP warned that given the complexities of a vaccine potentially requiring extreme low temperatures and the potential need to keep patients under observation for a short time after each vaccination, she did not believe the vaccines could be administered rapidly.

She added: 'GPs are already bearing the brunt of a lot of things being decanted out of hospitals at the moment. We are talking about potentially millions of new appointments and GPs are already on their knees.'

Despite the government spending more than the annual budget for general practice on the much-criticised outsourced test and trace programme, Dr Wilson said she was concerned a COVID-19 vaccination programme in general practice could be underfunded.

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