A vaccination programme for all doctors will be up and running within the week in England, the government has promised.
It came as a GP in one county, Kent, warned that many practices have half their staff off sick with COVID-19. The government promised a programme to include all health and social care workers, delivered through the hospital-based vaccination programme. It is to be coordinated by local clinical commissioning groups and will include dentists and staff working in the private sector.
It promised “significant progress” in vaccinating frontline staff by early next month.
Doctor organisations welcomed the proposals. They had been angered by the decision to downgrade the priority given to frontline workers in the first round of vaccination, leaving many staff to queue for appointments that were not taken up.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges said: “In the middle of an incredibly dark time, this is very welcome news. Day after day scores of people who care for the sick and vulnerable put their lives on the line, many have already been seriously ill; ensuring they all have the vaccine is the surest way to help the healthcare system to keep functioning at the highest levels as we work to overcome this pandemic and save as many lives as possible.”
Dr Samantha Batt-Rawden, President of the Doctors’ Association UK said: “For frontline staff who are risking their lives every day to keep patients safe, this announcement couldn’t have come soon enough. Tragically we have lost too many healthcare workers to COVID in the UK. Frontline NHS and care workers absolutely must be protected as a matter of priority and we are pleased to see this announcement from NHS England today.”
Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “GPs and our teams are currently working incredibly hard delivering two mass vaccination programmes, as well as the care and services our patients rely on us for – much of which cannot be delivered remotely. It’s imperative that GPs, our teams and others involved in delivering the vaccination programme have the opportunity to receive the COVID vaccine in a timely manner. This won’t just protect us from this terrible virus, allowing us to continue working on the frontline delivering patient care, but also patients and our families.”
The Observer quoted Dr John Allingham, medical director of Kent local medical committee, as reporting that some practices have half their staff absent.
Professor Marshall added: “There are enough right now to deliver the limited supplies that we’ve got. But we certainly haven’t got enough staff to deliver a much larger programme in two or three weeks’ time, while at the same time as continuing to deliver the flu vaccination programme and delivering normal business in general practice as well.”
The British Medical Association said that 46,000 NHS staff are off sick with the virus. Chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said “It is only if the NHS workforce is kept fit and well that we will be able to meet the unprecedented surge in demand that the coming weeks and months will bring as well as delivering the vaccine programme that remains our only hope to end this dreadful pandemic.”