Locum GPs left behind in patchy COVID-19 vaccine rollout

COVID-19 vaccination for locum GPs has trailed behind the rollout to other doctors, according to BMA polling that shows more than one in 10 are yet to receive their first dose.

NASGP chair Dr Richard Fieldhouse
NASGP chair Dr Richard Fieldhouse

A BMA poll that tracks vaccination rollout to UK doctors found that 12% of locum GPs had not received their first vaccination against the virus by 23 January - compared with just 2% of partners and 7% of salaried GPs.

Locums have been left behind throughout the vaccination rollout - with less than two thirds vaccinated by 13 January according to BMA polling - compared with almost nine in 10 partners at that stage.

NHS England instructed GP practices and NHS organisations earlier this month to 'immediately' vaccinate all frontline health and social care staff to ‘protect an already depleted workforce’. Locum leaders have pointed out that vaccinating this part of the workforce is doubly important because they move between practices.

Vaccinating health professionals

The BMA and other doctors’ groups have highlighted the slower rollout of vaccination to locum GPs - and pointed to the absence of a centralised system to contact this key part of the workforce.

NHS England set a 31 January deadline for all frontline health professionals to receive their first vaccination, including ‘temporary, locum and bank staff’. BMA data show that as of 23 January around 95% of doctors have received a first dose, while around one in 10 have received both doses.

GP leaders have urged locum GPs to contact local commissioners or LMCs if they are struggling to book in their first jab.

BMA sessional GP committee representative Dr Rachel McMahon wrote in a blog last week that the January vaccination deadline was 'ambitious but achievable'.

But she added: ‘The crux of any potential problems seems to be the identification of locum GPs, and GPs in any non-standard roles, as healthcare workers. Sadly, no centralised system has been invented, meaning that there are a huge number of local options. But, flagging yourself as a healthcare worker is essential to access a vaccine promptly.’

COVID-19 vaccine rollout

Dr McMahon warned locum GPs that securing access to vaccination may be ‘trial and error’ based on the local systems where they worked. Locums may be able to access vaccination through the current practice they are working at, a practice they have worked at in the past, through their registered GP, or at hospital hubs or mass vaccination sites.

The first port of call should be the practice where they currently work, said Dr McMahon, because practices are required to provide vaccinations to their staff.

The National Association of Sessional GPs (NASGP) has previously reported its members have had variable access to vaccination, with different approaches across primary care networks (PCNs).

NASGP chair Dr Richard Fieldhouse told GPonline that there were ‘multiple’ reasons why vaccination among locum GPs was lower than for other groups, and echoed frustrations around a lack of central planning. He said: 'The trouble is that GP locums by nature aren’t practice-based GPs, they move from surgery to surgery. That means that they aren’t on any official practice database or national system.

‘We have been saying this for so long to NHS England and they know this. But it’s very, very difficult to get that message [to add locums to vaccination lists] out there because they don’t have the right systems and processes to actually disseminate information properly to where it needs to be.'

Locum GP support

Although he said some locums had been ‘really struggling’ to get their first jab, Dr Fieldhouse said others had been added to lists as early as before Christmas. He highlighted the dangers of locums not getting vaccinated.

‘There are 17,000 of us GP locums propping up the NHS, moving from practice to practice. You could not invent a better super-spreader potentially. So we are a known risk factor for spreading virus between practice to practice.’

Locum GPs have been advised to flag themselves a healthcare worker to gain priority access to the vaccine at the current practice they are working at, a practice they have worked at in the past or via their registered GP, among other options.

LMCs warned in November that locums had been left faced significant physical and financial risk because of a lack of support through the COVID-19 pandemic.

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