Practice nurses are preparing to help deliver a million booster Covid vaccinations a day after the Government said all over-18s must be offered a booster by 31 December.
NHS England told general practices in a letter on Sunday that they will be asked to ‘clinically prioritise’ and ‘free up maximal capacity’ for Covid booster jabs, but must also continue to deliver ‘critical appointments such as cancer, urgent and emergency care’.
It acknowledged some routine appointments will have to be postponed amid the unprecedented ramp up of vaccinations. The target will mean delivering 1 million booster doses a day, up from 530,000 on Saturday. The UK record is 844,000 in March.
Exhausted practice nurses have shared their frustrations over the last-minute nature of the announcement, as well as concern for further delays to routine patient care.
Sue Nightingale, a practice nurse based in the West Midlands, called the thought of delaying patient appointments ‘heartbreaking’ and shared her worry about people being diagnosed with conditions such as cancer later than they would otherwise.
But she added that there was ‘simply not enough capacity’ in the system to deliver the required boosters ‘without stopping vital appointments’. Their team will take 12-hour shifts with 30-minute breaks to do their best to achieve the target, they said.
Ms Nightingale concluded: ‘As usual, no mention of GPNs who will have to work even harder. We are willing to go above and beyond but it’s been 12 months now. No Christmas break for us.’
Naomi Berry, a practice nurse from Bradford, said she and her colleagues ‘never imagined’ the deadline to offer boosters to the adult population would be ‘this quick’, as her practice had planned and prepared for a deadline to the booster programme at the end of January.
She said: ‘The worry is putting a hold on planned care to allow for the boosters… We are absolutely shattered in primary care having to catch up with no extra staffing.’
Meanwhile, RCN chief executive Pat Cullen said that although the booster programme is the ‘right thing to do’, she raised concerns about the ‘scale and pace’ of the expansion.
She said: ‘Nursing staff have already played a leading role in the delivery of the vaccination programme and they stand ready to continue to do the same again.
‘However, we are concerned about the scale and pace of this expansion, given these same nurses are already facing huge demands under existing unsustainable pressures in every part of the UK health and care system,’ she added.
Other changes as part of the booster effort will include:
- Unannounced inspections of GP practices focused on patient access will be postponed for the next three weeks until January 2022;
- Fire and rescue and police forces will be among the extra workforce stood up to support GPs to deliver the accelerated Covid booster programme
- New vaccination sites set up across the country, including mobile pop up sites;
- Increasing opening times for vaccination sites, to seven days a week with more appointments early in the morning, in the evening and at weekends;
- 50 military planning experts will help coordinate the national effort by supporting the NHS with logistics of the rollout;
- Reprioritising the NHS workforce to deliver as many jabs as possible;
- A national call for thousands more NHS volunteers.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a televised statement on Sunday evening: ‘To hit the pace we need, we’ll need to match the NHS’s best vaccination day yet – and then beat it day after day.
‘This will require an extraordinary effort. And as we focus on boosters and make this new target achievable, it will mean some other appointments will need to be postponed until the New Year.
‘But if we don’t do this now, the wave of Omicron could be so big that cancellations and disruptions, like the loss of cancer appointments, would be even greater next year.’ It comes as the UK Chief Medical Officers on Sunday increased the UK Covid Alert Level from Level 3 to Level 4 ‘due to a rapid increase in cases of the Omicron variant’