On Monday 11 January NHS England opened seven 'large scale' vaccination sites, which it says will offer a 'convenient alternative to GP-led and hospital services'.
The sites will be vaccinating patients who are aged 80 and over, as well as health and social care staff. NHS England is sending out letters to more than 600,000 patients aged over 80 who live up to a 45-minute drive from the centres inviting them to book an appointment for the jab.
The seven sites are:
- Excel Centre in London
- Ashton Gate in Bristol
- Epsom racecourse in Surrey
- Millennium Point in Birmingham
- Robertson House in Stevenage, Hertfordshire
- Etihad Tennis Club in Manchester
- The Centre for Life in Newcastle upon Tyne
For the first few days the centres will gradually build up capacity and test their systems, but eventually they will be operating 8am-8pm, seven days a week.
NHS England has said the sites will be able to vaccinate tens of thousands of patients each week when they are fully up and running and will be able to scale 'up and down according to vaccine supplies and demand'.
According to the government's COVID-19 vaccination plan there will eventually be 50 mass vaccination sites across the country.
How does this fit in with primary care vaccinations?
NHS England has stressed that the new sites will work 'hand in hand' with GP-led and hospital sites with the aim of offering the vaccine to everyone in the top four priority cohorts. The government has said that everyone in these groups who wants a jab will have had one by the middle of February.
Invitation letters have been sent to patients over 80 who have not already received a vaccine. NHS England has said that the letters explain that if patients have been contacted by their GP and already have an appointment booked with their practice vaccination site they should continue with this appointment.
However, GPs have reported that the letters have caused significant confusion for patients who already had an appointment booked with their local PCN vaccination site.
Despite the new centres opening, NHS England has said that it still expects that GP-led services will deliver most of the country's COVID-19 vaccinations.
How do patients book appointments?
If patients do decide to book an appointment at one of the mass vaccination sites they can do this via a new online booking service at http://www.nhs.uk/covid-vaccination. Patients will also be able to book on the phone by calling 119, although they are warned that the phone lines will probably be busy.
This new booking service will also be used for patients to book vaccinations at community pharmacy sites when they join the programme.
Only people who have received a letter will be able to book an appointment via the service.
Who will be staffing the vaccination centres?
NHS England has said that the centres will be the first places to use people who have volunteered to help with the vaccination programme, which include those from St John Ambulance and the NHS Volunteer Responder scheme. NHS staff will also be working at the site.
The St John Ambulance volunteers will either be trained vaccinators, post-vaccination observers or patient advocates, while the NHS Volunteer Responders will be taking on steward roles.
It is also expected that retired clinicians who have volunteered to help with the programme will be working as vaccinators at the sites.
Bookings will be staggered to enable social distancing and a 15-minute observation period. NHS England has said that those who are vaccinated should be in and out of the centres in less than an hour.
What do GPs need to do?
GPs have been asked to ensure vaccination records are kept up to date because the list of people sent invites to the mass vaccination centres will come from GP records.
An NHS England primary care bulletin, sent to practices on 10 January, said that it appreciated that contacting patients about the mass vaccination centres was happening at the same time as PCN sites were contacting them. But it added that this was n'ecessary to be able to drive through the vaccination programme at pace'.
Further information sent to practices from NHS England also provides advice on how to respond to patients contacting their practice about the letter. It recommends that practices advise patients that they 'take the first opportunity' to get their COVID-19 vaccination.
However, patients are entitled to wait until they can be vaccinated at their GP-led site if they would rather do this. Practices have been advised to warn patients that this may mean they need to wait longer to be vaccinated if they do this.
NHS England has also provided additional information that practices can include on their websites explaining the role of vaccination centres if they have one in their area, and answers to a list of questions that patients may have.