GPs raise 'substantial concerns' over workload impact of polio boosters

London GP leaders have raised 'substantial concerns' that practices do not have the capacity to deliver the polio booster campaign that will target all children aged 1-9 in the capital in the timeframes expected.

Girl receiving vaccine
Polio booster jabs will be offered to children in London (Photo: Peter CadeGetty Images)

In a letter to its members, seen by GPonline, Londonwide LMC said that it had 'substantial concerns about the details of this plan' and the timescales involved. It said it had 'made the strongest of representations' to local commissioners and NHS England about the problems.

The LMC revealed that there will be no additional funding for practices beyond the standard £10.06 item of service fee for delivering vaccinations. It said this was despite 'additional time being required to identify and potentially contact patients, and additional clinical staff and premises capacity being required to administer the jabs'.

The vaccine campaign will start by targeting the 160,000 eligible children in the eight priority London boroughs where at least one positive sample of the poliovirus was found: Barnet, Brenet, Camden, Enfield, Hackney, Haringey, Islington and Waltham Forest. All 905,000 eligible children across the capital will be offered the vaccine by 26 September.

Polio vaccination

Dr Michelle Drage, chief executive of Londonwide LMC, said there were concerns about the numbers being vaccinated and the sharp campaign deadline being imposed.

All GPs recognise the importance of vaccination and do not want to see a return of polio, but we have substantial concerns over the scale and timing of this plan,’ she said.

The capital is one of the most vaccine hesitant areas of the UK and the polio vaccine campaign means already stretched GP practices will have to devote time in allaying parent concerns about the jab’s safety. There are fears that a high uptake of the jab will put pressure on practices but a low uptake will see GPs pressured to increase uptake.

The polio jab campaign comes as GP practices, already buckling under the strain of depleted workforces, are gearing up for the flu and COVID-19 booster vaccine campaigns. There are fears that the polio vaccine campaign will add to practices’ pressures and draw staff away from routine care.

'Any redirection of the workforce away from routine care would impact the work being done to reduce the NHS backlog and alleviate public concerns about GP access,' Londonwide LMC's letter said.

Workforce concerns

The LMC said that even if additional funding was made available, there was not enough qualified staff to deliver the vaccinations in the timeframes proposed. It highlighted that there are only 1,262 whole-time equivalent practice nurses and nurses practitioners in London.

‘Providing the initial 160,000 children with a 15-minute appointment would require 40,000 hours or 180 nurses working 37.5 hours solidly over a six-week period,' its letter said. 

‘The total of 905,000 appointments would take 226,250 hours, so even if extended beyond the envisioned time frame to allow 10 weeks, it would still take 600 nurses working solely on the campaign to provide the necessary appointments.'

Dr Drage said: 'Currently London general practice is providing record numbers of appointments as teams who are already under extreme strain continue to try to offer safe access for patients and handle the impact of the backlog of care, while in the midst of a workforce crisis.’

She added: ‘More than a decade of under-resourcing needs to be addressed if there is to be capacity for general practice to take on such additional large scale campaigns, against such tight deadlines, without having an impact on the delivery of the government’s stated main priorities.’

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