Two in three GPs fear 2m-a-week COVID-19 vaccine target impossible

Two thirds of GPs do not believe the government will meet its target of vaccinating 2m people against COVID-19 each week, an RCGP poll shows.

COVID-19 vaccine target (Photo: Russell Cheyne/AFP/Getty Images)
COVID-19 vaccine target (Photo: Russell Cheyne/AFP/Getty Images)

College chair Professor Martin Marshall has also warned that general practice will be unable to keep up the current pace of vaccinations in two to three weeks unless the government creates a clearer path for retired healthcare professionals to return to the NHS workforce.

A total of 67% of GPs taking part in an online RCGP poll, which asked GPs if they thought the government’s 2m vaccines per week target was achievable, responded 'No, I'm sceptical'.

Speaking at an RCGP webinar on 6 January, Professor Marshall warned GP-led vaccination sites were still experiencing problems around vaccine deliveries, forcing them to cancel appointments, and highlighted problems with IT systems being used by GPs to log immunisations.

Weekly vaccine target

Just 9% of GPs told the RCGP that they had been given adequate information from NHS England and the government. College leaders have called for ‘clarity’ for both GPs and patients around the vaccine rollout.

Professor Marshall spoke about some of the issues facing GPs on the ground as they worked towards a national target of delivering 2m vaccines a day. He said: ‘Are we still hearing about problems now? Yes we are, and I know what a deep frustration this is.

‘We are hearing about practices who have volunteered [to deliver jabs] who have been told that supplies are arriving whenever, two days' time, and sometimes at short notice they have been told that their supplies are no longer available and they’ve had to cancel their patients or postpone their patients for another time.

‘And we hear of a larger group of practices who have volunteered and want to be part of the system, but haven’t yet been asked and don’t know when they will be asked.'

GPonline reported last month that GPs had been forced to cancel thousands of appointments at short notice because of delayed or cancelled deliveries. GPs explained how logistical failures were piling on unnecessary extra pressure on them and their teams.

Workforce limitations

Other speakers said that last-minute changes to vaccine protocols had presented ‘real operational challenges’ for GP-led sites, while issues with Pinnacle - the system being used across all vaccine settings - and how it links to EMIS had affected the rate of vaccine rollout.

Professor Marshall added that a lack of available workforce would soon threaten the pace of the vaccine delivery programme. He said he was encouraged by the health secretary’s recent announcement that the government had cut red tape confronted by returning professionals.

‘One of the biggest challenges for us as a college has been about the workforce and we’ve started talking about this. Right now there are enough vaccinators to deliver what general practice is delivering, that won’t be the case in two or three weeks' time when more supplies are onboard and we are delivering 2m jabs a week - let’s hope,’ Professor Marshall said.

‘As a college we have been lobbying very hard around the returners, or the retirees workforce… These are a whole range of people who have 30-40 years experience of working with needles, know how to do it, and have all the necessary skills but are being put off by the bureaucracy,’ he added.

Oxford vaccine

In the House of Commons yesterday Matt Hancock announced the government had ‘removed a series of unnecessary training modules’ to reduce the red tape faced by professionals trying to return to work, including requirements such as fire safety and terrorism training.

RCGP leaders warned earlier this week that bureaucracy was stopping retired GPs from returning to the workforce to help with vaccination efforts - threatening to slow down the pace of innoculations.

GPs will today begin to deliver the new Oxford/Astra Zeneca vaccine, making it easier to protect care home residents and other vulnerable people against COVID-19.

The government has set an overall target of delivering 13.9m vaccinations across the UK by mid February, while GPs in England have been asked to complete vaccination of nearly 250,000 care home patients by the end of this month.

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