GPonline understands that sign up to phase 2 of the COVID-19 vaccination programme is as low as 50% in some areas, while up to a quarter of GP practices in London are believed to have pulled out.
Another source has confirmed that ‘quite a number’ of PCNs have decided not to run vaccination clinics for the under-50s in order to focus on the day job, amid unprecedented demand on services.
NHS England acknowledged today that general practice is ‘under pressure’ and dealing with ‘pent-up demand’ - with officials thanking primary care teams for their 'monumental efforts'.
Phase 2 sign-up
It is understood that some PCNs have still not decided if they will sign up to phase 2, despite the deadline having passed.
More than five weeks after the deadline for practices to opt out of phase 2, NHS England has yet to provide any public update on the extent of opt outs. Asked for an update by GPonline, NHS England said it does not have up to date information on the number of PCNs that have decided to remain involved.
GPonline reported earlier this month that mounting workload pressures and workforce concerns had forced some PCNs to opt out, despite a willingness to see the job through. But factors such as differences in when younger patients are available for jabs are also making it difficult for some networks to continue.
NHS Confederation PCN Network director Ruth Rankine said: ‘With the younger age cohorts, PCNs are saying that it can be more difficult to fill appointments at certain times of the day, for example, before 4pm possibly because of work commitments. This could mean a whole different operating model for PCN sites.
‘That’s proving challenging for people because this may look slightly different in terms of the delivery model and that, therefore, may be challenging from a workforce perspective… we are hearing from PCNs that a lot of the younger cohorts are booking into the mass vaccination sites.’
Ms Rankine also explained that GP teams were having to carefully consider their priorities, saying that increasing complexity of consultations and a rise in patients presenting with problems related to long-term conditions had led to some ultimately opting out.
‘There are opportunities to use other trained vaccinators, for example volunteers to enable primary care clinicians to focus on those things that need their expertise... things coming through the door that only they can deal with,' she added.
Last week GPs demanded an urgent review into soaring demand in general practice, after claims patients are struggling to access care despite the profession currently seeing '10% of the population each week'.
MPs have also pressured the government to let GPs administer COVID-19 vaccines in their own practices after a wave of withdrawals from phase 2 of the vaccination programme