How GPs vaccinated thousands of patients against COVID-19 in spectacular first-wave effort

GPs and practice teams vaccinated tens of thousands of patients on 15 December as the COVID-19 vaccination programme began - on what a former RCGP chair hailed as a 'great day'. GPonline looks at how practices stepped up to the challenge.

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall delivers COVID-19 vaccine (Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images)
RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall delivers COVID-19 vaccine (Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Practices in England working across primary care networks (PCNs) welcomed patients over 80 to receive a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine - marking the start of a 3.5-day window to deliver 975 doses at each site.

Despite delays to some deliveries - pushing start dates back by around 24 hours - practices that received their batches on time pushed ahead with the first inoculations of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Chester GP Dr Jonathan Griffiths was part of the Winsford PCN team that managed to vaccinate a huge 940 people on Tuesday. He told GPonline that a simple determination to get the job done was one of the main driving forces behind his network’s success on the first day.

COVID vaccination

‘This was a huge ask, and it would have been very easy to just look at the enhanced service and the SOP, and come up with plenty of reasons why we couldn’t deliver this. But what we did in Winsford from the start was agree that we wanted to vaccinate our population,' Dr Griffiths said.

‘We had five practices in our PCN operating through one primary care building. So we used the ground floor to create a one-way system using a consultation corridor that led through to the back door where the observation marquee was.’

He added: ‘Each practice then vaccinated their own patients in their rooms… we had 10 consultation rooms with most housing two healthcare professionals and then an admin person to do data input. Having two healthcare professionals, one drawing up and administering, and the other doing the counselling and consenting, helped us with the timing of things.’

Dr Griffiths said his practice worked on a system of jabbing three people every five minutes, and had paper copies of patient lists to ensure work could continue if systems went down, which they did at one point. He said staff were 'really up for it' and excited to be rolling out the vaccine - and to see ‘a bit of light at the end of the tunnel’.

Promising uptake

‘There was a real sense of excitement, people felt quite emotional. We had a TV crew filming the first patient, who we clapped out, and it was a symbolic gesture showing how important this moment is as a turning point,’ he said.

Watford GP Dr Simon Hodes, who is a joint PCN lead for his practice, told GPonline that there had been a ‘real Blitz spirit’ ahead of the first day of vaccinations at his PCN. He said that his PCN had vaccinated ‘a few hundred patients’ so far, with a good uptake seen on the first day.

‘We've moved furniture around, bought pop-up desks, laminated signs, it’s just incredible what’s gone on in the last few days. A lot of the hard work has been done out of good will, with people working long hours to get clinics set up. Lots of staff are working overtime to make it happen.

‘Patients have been hugely grateful... they can see the efforts we’ve gone to. The other thing that is quite nice is that I’ve not seen my patients for months because of the pandemic. So, there is actually a human aspect of people coming in and seeing you face-to-face, so there’s lots of banter and chatting as they’ve got to wait around for 15 minutes.’

Huge staff effort

Dr Hodes said that clinicians were getting more confident administering the vaccine following a trial run - adding that his site had put on double staff during the first day to ensure everything ran smoothly. However, he admitted that using two separate patient systems was frustrating, and threatened to slow things down.

‘The first clinic was quite stressful for us because reconstituting the vaccine is a very delicate process - you can get it wrong, so it takes a bit of time doing it but we are getting more fluent at doing that now. It’s all running pretty smoothly. If it wasn’t for the 15-minute waiting period it would be an easy job.’

He added that practices had contacted staff from care homes to come and get vaccinated, with GPs unable to use the vaccine in this setting. He added that practice staff would be offered the vaccine if there were some spare.

Clinical director of Whitfield PCN in Stoke-on-Trent Dr Anwar Tufail told GPonline on Tuesday that the first day of COVID vaccinations had gone ‘very well’ as he celebrated the efforts of his team. ‘It’s all gone according to plan - we’re even 15 minutes ahead of ourselves,' he said.

Vaccine deliveries

'We’re looking to vaccinate 408 people today, and then another 408 patients tomorrow, and open for half a day on Thursday - vaccinating the remaining 160. The way we have modelled our system leaves us half a day’s grace period, so if something goes wrong or we are really slow on the first day, we have some catch-up time on Thursday.’

Dr Tufail, whose team were the first to start vaccinating in the area, said he was relieved that they got their vaccine deliveries on time, allowing them to start as scheduled. In North Staffordshire four out of six COVID vaccines sites were disrupted because of delays.

He explained that three vaccinators had been tasked with administering doses to patients, each seeing five people - meaning that in an 18-minute period, 15 patients could be seen. ‘It took a slightly longer time this morning because we needed to get our staff ready, but once our vaccinators were up and running, it started to run more smoothly. All of our patients are really happy that they are being jabbed, one has even written a poem for us,’ said Dr Tufail.

GPs across the country celebrated the rollout of the vaccine, taking to Twitter to post updates of the work at their sites. RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall was among those delivering the vaccine - and thanked colleagues and patients.

Former RCGP chair Dame Clare Gerada told GPonline it was a fantastic day for general practice as she praised the efforts of her GP federation in London. She said: ‘It’s been fabulous, but there are still things that need to be ironed out. Patients across the patch are coming in and being brought by taxi, or by their adult grandchildren, and it is lovely to see.

‘I asked a few people how they felt, and they said they were absolutely fine, and the nurses and healthcare assistants, and the GPs and managers are just spectacular. If we’re anything like the rest of the country, then I think the early uptake is very good.'

She added: 'Considering we are this close to Christmas and people are pulling out the stops to come, and they are coming, it’s going well. I just think it puts general practice in a good light, as ever GP teams have risen to the challenge.’

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