The health secretary has promised that all GP staff will be vaccinated by 15 February – and hopefully ‘sooner’.
It comes as NHS England has set out an ‘immediate requirement’ for hospital hubs to vaccinate healthcare staff, including GPs.
This week, the Government announced a target for the JCVI’s first four priority groups – with frontline health and social care workers in the second spot – to be immunised against Covid by 15 February.
Speaking at a parliamentary committee evidence session held on Thursday, Matt Hancock said he will ‘absolutely ensure’ that all NHS staff are offered a vaccine ‘in the coming weeks’ and ‘certainly by 15 February’.
He added: ‘I hope we can get through all of [JCVI] category two – which includes all health and social care staff – sooner than 15 February, but that’s the target that we’re committed to hit.’
And an NHS England letter yesterday outlined an ‘immediate requirement’ for hospital hubs to vaccinate frontline health and social care workers, following risk assessments ‘as much as possible’.
The letter said: ‘It is now time for us to vaccinate health and care workers, in line with the Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation’s (JCVI) 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.’
It added that all NHS trusts will be established as hubs by mid-January and will be the ‘default provider’ of Covid vaccinations for health and social care staff, including GPs and other primary care staff.
However, local systems ‘may wish to develop alternative local arrangements’, including with GP-run vaccination centres, the letter said.
NHS England added that while staff at ‘high risk’ of infection, developing ‘serious disease’ or transmitting infection to other staff or vulnerable people should be prioritised, hubs should ensure ‘maximum uptake of vaccination and timely, equitable access across staff groups’.
Staff vaccinations should be completed ‘as quickly as possible’ and trusts are expected to make ‘significant progress’ by the first week of February, it said.
The letter added that staff vaccinations should be provided seven days a week at times that are ‘accessible to all frontline health and social care workers’ and may follow a phased approach so organisations can ‘maintain service delivery’.
RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall welcomed the plans and said it is ‘imperative’ that GPs receive the vaccination ‘in a timely manner’.
He added: ‘General practice has been doing an excellent job, playing a leading role in vaccinating more than 1.5m patients – but there is long road ahead of us and the last thing we want to see is the workforce depleted as staff fall ill due to Covid-19 at a time when we need all hands-on deck.’
Meanwhile, Mr Hancock also told the parliamentary committee that GPs should invite social care workers in to be vaccinated with spare jabs that would otherwise go to waste.
He said: ‘The primary care networks [should] invite social care workers in at the end of the day or at the end of a box if they’re getting to a point where the time on the box is running out since it was defrosted.’
It follows an urgent call from the BMA for GPs and practice staff to be vaccinated by the end of January or ‘within two weeks’ if at high risk.
NHS England last month said that Covid vaccinations should be ‘immediately expanded’ to frontline healthcare workers, with vulnerable staff prioritised based on risk assessments.