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GPs complain they have no ‘capacity’ to play major role in accelerating Covid booster vaccine drive

Top GPs today complained they were too overworked to help accelerate Britain’s sluggish Covid booster programme that has seen just a quarter of care home residents revaccinated. 

The slow vaccination drive has led to finger pointing among officials, with the NHS blaming a lack of urgency among the public and insisting there are more than enough doctors, nurses and jabs available. 

But the chair of the Royal College of GPs Professor Martin Marshall hinted GPs were struggling to get involved in the drive because they were already juggling a surge in demand for appointments and the flu jab campaign. 

He told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: ‘I don’t think general practice should be drawn back into the high level of vaccinations that we provided early in the pandemic because we simply don’t have the capacity to do that.

‘We need to look after our other patients who have other health problems.’ He added: ‘There are a number of practices that have had to drop out of the vaccination programme because of the massive pressures (they face).’

Doctors and the health service won widespread praise for their Herculean effort behind Britain’s first Covid vaccination programme, which was one of the fastest in the world and outpaced many European countries.

But the booster programme has lagged behind. Just 4.05 out of the 8.7million eligible people in England (47 per cent) have received their top-up doses to date, with patients saying they are struggling to find out where to get the shots. 

NHS England data also shows only 27.8 per cent of care home residents have received their crucial third jab, alongside 14.1 per cent of care home staff, despite the two being high priority groups. Around half of over-80s have received their boosters to date.

Pressure is mounting on the Government to get the programme moving as daily infections approach the same level as at the peak of the second wave in the face of a new Delta variant, and the NHS prepares for a harsh winter. 

Members of No10’s own scientific panels have publicly called for ministers to hurry up with the programme, which prompted Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng to admit today it was ‘something we really need to address’. 

Health Secretary Sajid Javid is due to lead Downing Street’s first Covid press conference in a month at 5pm, where he will promise to speed up the vaccine drive and encourage more people to come forward. He is also set to fend off calls from NHS leaders to immediately re-impose masks and work-from-home guidance.

It comes after GPs slammed the Health Secretary’s plans to name and shame surgeries that fail to deliver enough face-to-face appointments, with unions warning the proposals could trigger a wave of retirements. 

Only around 4.05million(purple line) out of the 8.7million eligible people (green line) in England have received the crucial third dose, prompting ministers to urge people to come forward for their inoculations

Sajid Javid pictured today

The priority list for boosters

Sajid Javid (pictured today), the Health Secretary, is due to lead Downing Street’s first Covid press conference in months at 5pm, where he will promise to speed up the vaccine drive and encourage more people to come forward

A stream of cars drive through the Milton Covid testing centre near Cambridge this morning, as more people get tested due to the increase in cases

A stream of cars drive through the Milton Covid testing centre near Cambridge this morning, as more people get tested due to the increase in cases

Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said doctors were too overworked to help turbo-charge the Covid booster vaccination programme

Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said doctors were too overworked to help turbo-charge the Covid booster vaccination programme

The slow vaccine drive has led to finger pointing among health officials, with NHS England boss Amanda Pritchard yesterday claiming that people simply were not coming forward quickly enough for their jabs. 

But sources close to the booster drive told MailOnline capacity was the main issue, with nearly a third fewer mass vaccination hubs in operation now compared to during the peak of the initial vaccine effort in spring. And an NHS practice manager said GPs are prioritising treating patients over dishing out jabs. 

It is feared the slow drive could push hospital and death rates up again and force ministers to revert to its Covid winter ‘Plan B’, which would see mandatory face masks and vaccine passports introduced.

Professor Marshall told BBC Radio 4: ‘In this booster programme, there has been a shift so that more of the vaccinations are going to be delivered by mass vaccination centres.’

He said, however, that some general practices would be involved although this would be fewer than the number that took part in the initial roll out.

He said surgeries were directing Britons to the NHS England Covid website to find out where to get their boosters.

‘We might know that some of our neighbouring practices, or that our own practice, is part of the vaccination programme.

‘But more often than not we are saying to people to go onto this website and there you will find something that will direct you either to a mass vaccination centre or maybe to a walk in centre or maybe a general practice centre.’

A THIRD of mass Covid vaccine centres in England have closed since peak stage of rollout 

England’s Covid booster jab rollout is struggling to get off the mark because so many mass vaccination centres have been closed and GPs are too busy, it was claimed today. 

Questions are being raised about why nearly 5million vulnerable, eligible adults have yet to receive a third dose despite the booster programme launching a month ago. 

NHS England boss Amanda Pritchard blamed the sluggish campaign on a dip in demand, suggesting people had become too complacent about their immunity.

But figures show that there are nearly a third fewer mass vaccination hubs in operation now compared to when the original two-dose Covid vaccine programme was at the peak of its powers in April.   

The NHS has moved away from the flagship centres, many of which were set up temporarily in sports stadiums, shopping centres and museums, with local pharmacies and GP surgeries now picking up more of the load.

Rolling out boosters is more complicated than the initial vaccine effort because the scheme is running alongside a mass flu jab campaign and an inoculation blitz in children.

A scientist close to the booster programme told MailOnline that the shift away from larger hubs — which can deliver jabs more quickly — was ‘likely’ the main reason the rollout has been slow.

‘The delivery process of the vaccines has been reorganised, big vaccine hubs in England have been shut and the owners are wanting the premises back for their own use,’ the adviser said.

‘It means a lot more of this round of vaccines are being delivered through pharmacies, which has the advantage of being local so people don’t need to travel across town. But they can’t do it at the same speed as the mass hubs.’

Downing Street said today that ministers would ‘put all our energies’ into making sure the rollout speeds up, as the country hurtles towards winter with infection levels approaching peak-second-wave levels.

Asked about the slow pace of the booster drive, Professor Marshall said it was ‘concerning’.

‘We know that immunity is waning six months after you receive the second vaccination. We know that immunity is in some cases significantly less, it will be different for different people.’

He added: ‘The problem is not the availablity of the vaccine, the problem is how to access it in a way that is convenient to patients.’

A couple in their mid-80s called the programme to say they had been trying to get their boosters for more than a month now, without any success.

Anne Marie, from Lincolnshire, explained that she suffers from arthritis and is a carer to her husband, who has cancer, dementia and has previously suffered a stroke.

She said they had been to their GP, local chemist and the hospital to ask about getting a booster jab.

But on each occassion they were told by staff that no one knew who to contact to get them an appointment.

She said: ‘We’ve been left feeling very much as if we are not really very important, very much like pass the parcel.’

NHS England figures showed 94.9 per cent of care home residents have received two doses of the vaccine, while 88 per cent of staff are fully jabbed. Both groups are eligible for the booster.

But The Daily Telegraph reported barely a quarter of residents had been jabbed to date.

A source told the newspaper: ‘The NHS isn’t focusing on this with the same verve as they did the first time round. 

‘The booster programme has been left to the classic regional NHS bureaucracy.’

Data showed barely half of over-80s had got their boosters, with NHS England data showing 1.34 of 2.68million people in the age group had received their third doses.

Some 35 per cent of 75 to 79-year-olds and 18 per cent of 70 to 74-year-olds have also got their boosters.

Third jabs can only be given from six months after the second dose was administered.

The NHS only finished rolling out second doses to 70 to 74-year-olds in early May, meaning that it is still too early for many in this age group to get their top-up doses.

Scientists are calling on Britons to get their Covid boosters, saying it will help protect them from the virus throughout the winter when the NHS is expected to come under severe pressure.

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty urged people to get their third doses today, saying: ‘Covid cases are rising and winter is drawing closer.

‘1) If you have not been vaccinated, now is the time. 2) If you are offered a booster please take up the offer. 3) Ventilation, masks in crowded indoor spaces and hand washing remain important.’

Earlier, Professor Andrew Hayward, an epidemiologist on the Government’s scientific advisory panel SAGE, said the sluggish pace could take months to reach the most vulnerable.

‘By which time we could have had a major peak and we know from the NHS they are already experiencing great pressures on hospitals, and that is going to get worse as we go into winter,’ he told Times Radio.

He added: ‘Two things that will help are a) the vaccinations, but b) social distancing. And the most effective way of achieving better social distancing is those people who can easily work from home should do so — it makes everything less crowded for everybody and less transmission.

‘Wearing masks will make a difference, and we have, as a society, given up on that, which is a shame. There are tools we can use and, while some are an inconvenience, they aren’t a drag on the economy.’

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng today said the slow uptake of booster jabs is 'something that we really need to address'

NHS England boss Amanda Pritchard yesterday claimed the elderly are not coming forward quickly enough for their boosters

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng (left) today said the slow uptake of booster jabs is ‘something that we really need to address’. NHS England boss Amanda Pritchard (right) yesterday claimed the elderly are not coming forward quickly enough for their boosters

Sajid Javid will hold first 5pm press conference in month TONIGHT as fears grow over new Delta variant and NHS demands for a ‘PLAN C’

Sajid Javid will address NHS demands for a Covid ‘Plan C’ in a press conference tonight after Tory MPs today slammed the NHS for demanding face masks and work from home guidance be reimposed immediately.

The Health Secretary is due to lead Downing Street’s first Covid press conference in a month at 5pm, as Covid soared to their highest level for almost three months yesterday amid a sluggish booster vaccine roll-out.

NHS bosses are demanding No10 brings out the tough restrictions, which include vaccine passports at night clubs, immediately and starts forming a plan to bring in further sanctions to curb the rising numbers.

Tonight will be the first Covid press conference — which were a mainstay when ministers announced restrictions on freedoms during the height of the pandemic — since September 14, highlighting the escalating fears about the winter crisis.

Coronavirus deaths in the UK yesterday rose to their highest daily level since early March. Experts fear they may have been exacerbated by an even more infectious offshoot of the Delta variant called AY4.2. The proportion of cases made up by the sub-strain have doubled in a month, official figures show.

Last month’s presser was attended by Boris Johnson, Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, when they discussed vaccinating over-12s, the booster programme and the Government’s winter ‘Plan B’.

Backbenchers today hit back at the NHS demands, claiming that U-turning on freedoms could result in an endless cycle of lockdowns every year.

Health and Social Care Committee member Paul Bristow slammed NHS bosses for trying to ‘bounce Government into restrictions’. Steve Baker said: ‘We cannot allow the liberties of the people of this country to be a tool of NHS capacity management.’ 

Health officials are blaming the public for the slow pace of the booster roll out, with Mrs Pritchard insisting there was ‘no delay in sending out invitations’ and that nearly two million over-50s will be invited this week.

She added: ‘Whilst it’s great that people are coming forward… they are not coming forward as quickly when they receive their invitation as for the first jabs.

‘It is really important that we now absolutely do get the message out that Covid is still with us, it is serious, boosters really do make a difference in boosting immunity.’

GPs say many surgeries have pulled out of vaccinating to deal with the backlog of other illnesses. 

The GP vaccination contract told medics they must continue with all usual work as well as vaccines, leading to many dropping out of the scheme.

An NHS practice manager said 40 per cent of GPs in his area had stopped vaccinating because they could not cope with the extra workload. 

He said: ‘NHS England said it was all or nothing — so they got nothing.’

A scientist close to the booster programme told MailOnline that the shift away from larger hubs — which can deliver jabs more quickly — was ‘likely’ the main reason the rollout has been so slow.

‘The delivery process of the vaccines has been reorganised, big vaccine hubs in England have been shut and the owners are wanting the premises back for their own use,’ the adviser said.

‘It means a lot more of this round of vaccines are being delivered through pharmacies, which has the advantage of being local so people don’t need to travel across town. But they can’t do it at the same speed as the mass hubs.’

NHS England has vehemently denied that the slowness of the booster programme is down to logistics and claim that the nation’s appetite for boosters simply wasn’t as strong as it was in the first rollout.

It points out that there are actually more vaccine centres in England now — 2,200 — than ever before, even though there are fewer mass hubs. In April there were 160 mass centres across England compared to 110 now. 

But a survey for the World Economic Health Forum in September found that more than eight in 10 UK adults who had received two doses of a vaccine would take a booster if offered — one of the highest rates in Europe. 

The Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) — which advises the Government on vaccine policy — last month finally approved plans to revaccinate all healthy over-50s, frontline health staff and carers and patients with underlying medical conditions.

Eventually, more than 30m Britons will qualify for boosters but they are only being invited for one if they had their second dose six months ago. 

Mr Kwarteng this morning told Sky News the initial vaccine rollout had been ‘the most successful thing we’ve done’ and urged those eligible to take up the offer of a third dose of the jab.

He said: ‘The critical thing, as my colleague the Health Secretary has said, is about hospitalisation and also deaths, and, thank God, those figures are much, much lower than they were, certainly, at the beginning of the year.’

He said the Government was ‘concerned’ about rising deaths, but added: ‘You’ll remember at the beginning of the year we had hundreds, if not thousands, a day.

‘Mercifully that hasn’t happened and, as the Health Secretary said, it’s something we’re going to have to live with and I think we are managing the situation.’

JANET STREET-PORTER: Don’t wait to be asked, get off your butts and walk-in for a booster jab today – before Britain sleepwalks into another needless Covid catastrophe 

Are we sleepwalking to another avoidable disaster?

The initial vaccine rollout in the UK was a world-beater and those responsible were rightly applauded.

But covid doesn’t respect complacency.

This deadly virus constantly mutates and earlier in the summer experts warned us that a third booster dose of vaccine was needed six months after a second jab if the NHS was not going to be overwhelmed by a combination of Covid and seasonal flu.

The signs are already ominous. Covid is on the march again and time is running out.

At the start of this week, almost 50,000 new covid cases were recorded in a day – the highest figure since mid July – along with almost 1,000 hospital admissions. These figures are up almost seven percent on the previous week, with deaths rising by 11.4 percent.

A nurse administers a vaccine booster on October 5 in Cwmbran, Wales

A nurse administers a vaccine booster on October 5 in Cwmbran, Wales

More than half of those eligible for a third jab – 4.8 million – have yet to receive it, and as their immunity starts to wane, infection rates are rising.

No wonder there’s worrying talk of yet another lockdown by Christmas if the graph continues to show an upward trajectory.

There is even a new ‘super’ Delta variant in town that is 10-15 percent more infectious and already makes up 10 percent of new cases.

In mid-September the government promised that those at most risk- the over 80s and the clinically vulnerable – would receive a third booster jab by the middle of December. And they announced that everyone over 50 was eligible for a third jab six months after their 2nd dose.

Hoorah!

However, we were told not to contact our GPs, but sit at home and ‘wait to be invited’. I’ve spent weeks waiting and so have most of the elderly people I know.

I guess not surprising if sending out the invites is down to GPs who are already complaining they are overworked and that they are not going to comply with the government’s latest directive to abandon social distancing and see more patients face to face.

The Home Park vaccination centre in Plymouth, Devon, which was quiet Tuesday afternoon

The Home Park vaccination centre in Plymouth, Devon, which was quiet Tuesday afternoon

If GPs are so over-worked, perhaps the task of contacting the 30 million people in nine priority groups who should be getting a booster asap could have been handled differently?

The rollout of the booster programme has been snail-like compared to the soaraway success of the initial campaign. Last Spring the public were being jabbed at the rate of 400,000 a day, but the rate for boosters has crept up to 180,000 from a pathetic 150,000 ten days ago.

Probably realising that NHS wards could be full of wheezing covid and flu victims by Christmas, the government has announced a new advertising campaign (launching later this week), urging us to rush along and get our booster jabs. (It’s bound to exhort us to ‘save our NHS’.)

Some pundits are claiming that ‘booster reluctance’ could be one of the reasons why only half of the over-80s have had a third jab. In my experience, this is utter tosh.

JANET STREET_PORTER: GPs are overpaid, understaffed, overworked

JANET STREET_PORTER: GPs are overpaid, understaffed, overworked

The roll out is an inconsistent shambles, it depends on postcodes and staffing levels at local GP’s health centres, who are the people charged with contacting patients.

GPs are overpaid, understaffed, overworked. Sending out invites in another item in their intray, along with reminding people to have their flu jabs.

The result is confusion and anxiety. One of my friend’s stepfather has been jabbed but not her mother, who is 10 years older. Another pal’s 90-year-old mother is sitting at home waiting for her ‘invite’, scared to go out.

I’m 74 and have been suffering from some booster anxiety – definitely not BOOSTER RELUCTANCE. Every day for the last fortnight I’ve logged on to the website, only to be rejected, and told to ‘wait to be invited’.

I logged on to my GP’s website to try and have a chat, only to read a message: ‘All appointments have gone, try again tomorrow’. Meanwhile some cheeky friends (in their 50s) got boosters by chancing their luck and strolling into the nearest chemist and vaccination centre.

How much vaccine is going unused because of lack of invited customers? We’ll never know.

By today, I’d had enough of waiting, I found three walk-in vaccine centres near my home and just turned up at one – 10 minutes later I was jabbed. The chemist told me they had only vaccinated 70 people so far that day and it was already 3pm. The previous day it had been just 100.

There’s no shortage of walk-in centres in central London, but there is a shortage of ‘invitations’. Jabbers should be touring the streets with tannoys begging everyone over 50 to get a third jab straightaway and not waste a single day agonising about whether it’s five months or five and a half months since their 2nd jab. Otherwise, we’ll all be facing yet another lockdown.

To add insult to injury, I couldn’t even get my free flu jab because the vaccine had run out!

The booster message is not reaching those who are eligible. They must forget about waiting for their GPs to ask them in when it suits them – we’re not talking about a celebrity tea party or breakfast with Madonna, just a quick and simple jab. They must cadge a lift to the nearest walk-in centre and demand their rights.

One NHS bigwig claimed the slow roll out was due to a ‘systems issue’ – because vaccinators are having to do three things at once; give teenagers their first dose, administer 2nd doses to young adults, and give third jabs to the elderly and clinically vulnerable and health and care workers.

GPs complain they have no 'capacity' to play major role in accelerating Covid booster vaccine drive

GPs complain they have no 'capacity' to play major role in accelerating Covid booster vaccine drive

Try as I might, that doesn’t seem too complicated. Flu jabs are dished out at fast-speed in High Street chemists, so why should covid jabs be more difficult? If we lack vaccinators, is this a job that demands a high level of skill? Would it not be easy to allow dentists, nurses and pharmacists at all high street outlets to offer booster jabs along with prescriptions and headache pills, eye tests and wisdom teeth removal?

In my experience, the older you get the most time you spend at these places. Now, the government is planning to allow children aged between 12 and 15 to simply turn up at a walk-in centre and get their jabs.

Only one in six have been vaccinated in the month they have been included in the rollout. That will add to the chaos as the elderly and vulnerable sit alongside the super-spreaders.

Currently, new cases of Covid are largest amongst secondary school children and their parents. That’s no consolation to older people who have to shop and go about their daily lives in close proximity to these groups, at the very time the efficacy of their double doses starts to wane. Amongst the young, Covid is mostly just like a bad cold, but if you’re a pensioner, it’s another matter.

Everyone over 50 must be prioritised for a booster jab by Christmas, full stop. Yes, I’m triple jabbed, and slightly smug.

And so should you be. 

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