In a letter to GP practices and NHS organisations, officials set out 'operational guidance on the immediate requirement to vaccinate frontline health and social care workers ensuring maximum uptake of vaccination and timely, equitable access across staff groups'.
The letter comes days after BMA leaders warned that urgent vaccination of health and social care staff was 'essential to protect an already depleted workforce and to help prevent the NHS becoming overwhelmed in the next three weeks'.
Health and social care staff are among the top two priority groups identified by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), but some GPs have reported a lack of clarity over whether they can prioritise vaccination of staff alongside patients.
GP COVID-19 vaccination
The letter from NHS England primary care medical director Dr Nikki Kanani and chief people officer Prerana Issar says: ‘It is now time for us to vaccinate health and care workers, in line with the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI)’s prioritisation. This is critical to ensure we protect health and care workers, patients and the public at a time when COVID-19 pressures across health and care are intensifying.
'Thank you again for your continued efforts. In providing the COVID-19 vaccine in a fast and equitable way, we aim to protect patients, staff, carers and families and continue to deliver high-quality care in the most demanding circumstances.'
Around 200 hospital sites are already operating as vaccination hubs, and the letter suggests that by mid-January all NHS Trusts including acute, mental health, community and ambulance trusts 'will be established as “hospital hubs” with a responsibility for COVID-19 vaccine delivery to all individuals within JCVI cohort 2b' - which includes health and social care staff.
These hospital hubs will be the default provider of vaccinations for all health and social care workers, but the guidance confirms that alternative local arrangements with GP-run vaccination centres can be arranged.
Staff who have frequent face-to-face contact with patients and who are directly involved in patient care in primary care will be just some of those prioritised for a COVID-19 jab.
Earlier this week the BMA called for the government to vaccinate all health and social care workers no later than the end of January to protect ‘an already depleted workforce’. It said that the vaccines would also prevent the NHS from becoming overwhelmed in the next three weeks.
It called the government’s approach to vaccinating healthcare professionals ‘ad hoc and often chaotic’ - arguing that the ‘slow pace of vaccination’ was leading to ‘very significant staff absences’.
BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul argued healthcare workers were the ‘exhausted foot soldiers’ on the front line, acknowledging that GPs were being ‘pushed to the limits’ to deliver a mass vaccination programme.
He said: 'All of these workers are at constant risk of becoming infected, yet they are, beyond all doubt, the most important cog in the COVID-19 ‘care machine'. If they fall ill with the virus and cannot work, there will be reduced care, fewer vaccinations given, fewer medical procedures and less patients getting better and going home from hospital where they may then need GP care; they are also at huge risk and working often 18-hour days.’