GPs use bus as mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinic to boost uptake

GPs in West Sussex are using a converted bus as a mobile vaccination clinic to try to boost uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine in vulnerable patients in the area.

Staff welcome patients to the mobile COVID-19 unit (Photo: Alliance for Better Care)
Staff welcome patients to the mobile COVID-19 unit (Photo: Alliance for Better Care)

The mobile vaccination unit, currently stationed outside the Apple Tree Centre temple in Crawley, opened its doors to patients on 28 January - managing to vaccinate more than 100 people on the first day.

Provided by the region's transport provider Metrobus, the bus will travel around the area over the next month making it easier for vulnerable patients to access vaccination - and providing a smaller, friendlier setting.

As part of the novel initiative GPs have worked with local community partners, including religious leaders, to ensure uptake among all groups in the locality, including black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, is healthy.

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The GP federation hopes practices using the site will be able to vaccinate 200 people a day once the bus is running at full speed, with the possibility of adding more vehicles to the mobile fleet in future.

Chief executive at Alliance for Better Care Katherine Saunders told GPonline the idea of using a mobile vaccination hub came about when GP teams were looking at ways they could vaccinate people in hard to reach areas.

She explained: ‘It was set up for two reasons really. It was trying to get out to where people might be reluctant to get the vaccine, especially in some groups. Having something that is visible, friendly - people like buses and are familiar with them - it would attract a higher uptake. And it can be in the right location at the most convenient time for people to get there.

‘The way it’s being run means that it’s a totally separate base that you’re going into. So if people are anxious, or they are shielding, this reassures them [because it’s a smaller clinic], so this just reassures them.’

She added that the mobile vaccination unit worked in a similar way to how COVID vaccines have been delivered at care homes, with clinicians collecting doses from a registered vaccination site.

Patients are invited to the bus by the federation’s GP practices, who have contributed staff to work at the clinic. The group has also worked closely with the Apple Tree Centre - a community project created by the Gurjar Hindu Union - to boost uptake among BAME communities.

‘The links with the faith groups are really important because some people are very happy to go to their temple or mosque and feels familiar,' said Ms Saunders. 'So if we can do it in partnership with them, and then they are publicising to their groups that the bus is in the car park, it will hopefully have a real impact on takeup.

‘But the patients love it, the reaction we had yesterday was great and they think it’s really cool that they are on a bus getting vaccinated. This first wave has been shielded patients, so they like the separation of it and it's captured people’s imaginations.’

Vaccination services

Matt Cullis, Alliance for Better Care director and practice manager at Leacroft Medical Practice (Crawley) said: ‘We’re committed to making our vaccine service accessible to the whole community, and using a bus that is staffed by our community team was the simple and obvious solution.

‘We are always looking for ways that we can innovate and impact the care provided in our community. We are extremely fortunate to be backed by a team that could help launch our mobile vaccination unit in a short space of time.’

Alliance for Better Care is a GP Federation covering East Surrey, Crawley, Horsham and Mid-Sussex. It has launched seven vaccination sites across the region and its team have administered more than 30,000 vaccinations to date.

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