Confusion as NHS launches national Covid vaccination booking system

The NHS has launched a new national booking system for appointments for Covid vaccinations. In Chiswick, an email went out to local residents from NHS Hounslow CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group) on Monday 18 January about it. The trouble is that GPs received the email at the same time as the public and they are left unclear what now is their role.

The email said: ‘Letters are now being sent to NW London residents to book a vaccination through the national booking system’.

(You may wonder what that has to do with us in Chiswick. It’s the first I’ve heard that I live in north west London. I don’t, I live in Chiswick, in west London, but we now come under the umbrella of NW London for all things NHS related).

The email explains that letters are now being sent to residents in the first priority groups inviting them to register for an appointment for a Covid vaccination either online or by phone, using a phone number they will receive in the letter. The letter will include a unique booking code and individual NHS ID number which will be needed to make the appointment at their nearest ‘large vaccination centre’, which for us is Wembley.

‘Residents will not be able to book an appointment until they receive this invite letter, which will be sent only when it’s your turn for a vaccination’.

Existing system working well in Chiswick

What is confusing is that we have a perfectly good system already in place, run by local GPs at the Chiswick Health Centre. So far they have already vaccinated 3,000 people. They have already given jabs to the majority of people locally who are aged over 80. Sarah Herdman, Practice Manager at the Centre, told The Chiswick Calendar:

‘We are still picking up those over 80 who could not attend. Housebound patients will start to be completed this week and next. A proportion of 70’s have been done and all the Nursing Homes have been completed’.

They have been vaccinating some patients from Hounslow and Heston as well as Chiswick, as it is one of only two vaccination centres in LB Hounslow.

The messaging so far has been clear – sit tight and wait for your GP to contact you. People have heard from their own GP, usually by way of a phone call, sometimes in a text. While there were a few teething problems and long queues initially, because they got double the dose they were expecting, they’ve done their best to iron out the wrinkles and elderly people in Chiswick have reported back, delighted that they have been able to receive their jab so efficiently.

Discussing the handling of the pandemic at the Chiswick Area Forum on Tuesday 12 January, LB Hounslow’s Director of Public Health Kelly O’Neill said:

“I have to applaud my colleagues in Chiswick Health Centre. They have vaccinated roughly 2,500 people in a few days because they got an extra batch of vaccine they weren’t expecting. This is an incredible feat”.

Image above: Chiswick Health Centre, Fisher’s Lane

What will happen now?

GPs, frustrated at the lack of information about how the new national initiative will affect the way they work, hope to find out more today (Tuesday 19 January). There is a meeting of the Primary Care Network, which represents the eight GP surgeries in Chiswick, servicing a population of 50,000 people, taking place in the morning. After that meeting, Chiswick’s GPs hope they will be clearer about how they should coordinate their efforts with the national programme.

“You’re quite right in saying it is confusing” Liz Hagerty, Chair of the Patients Group at Grove Park Surgery, told The Chiswick Calendar. “We need more information”.

What is clear is that surgeries will carry on doing exactly what they have been doing, at least for the time being. Chiswick Health Centre gets about 24 hours’ notice of an incoming batch of vaccine. They have had none so far this week. When they get notice of a delivery, the GP surgeries in the area contact the next patients on their lists.

‘We do not know when vaccine will arrive, so planning is a challenge’ Sarah Herdman told us. The vaccine has to be used straight away when they receive it, which is why they are only able to give people short notice.

What if I get a call from the doctor and a letter from the NHS asking me to register for an appointment online?

“At the moment I suspect we will get both” says Liz Hegarty.

NHS Hounslow CCG makes it clear that if people get a letter when they already have an appointment for vaccination, they should stick to the arrangement they’ve already made.

A message from Chiswick Health Centre

‘We would like to thank all the staff and volunteers who are supporting the delivery of the vaccinations. The delay in delivery and the double delivery led to a change of plan and queues for a short period which we apologise for but after some fast planning and adjustment we cleared any queues and believe that we now have a process that means a 15-minute wait is the maximum.

Advice about the vaccination programme

  • ‘Your practice will call you for vaccination – please don’t block the phone lines asking for dates and times – they will call you once a clinic is confirmed and ready to go.
  • ‘If you are booked to attend please arrive at your appointment time and not early. Even if you are late, we will see you please don’t worry.
  • ‘If you are unwell let your practice know not the Centre – they can cancel and rebook for you.
  • ‘If you receive the Pfixer vaccine you will have to stay with us for 15 minutes after vaccination and if you receive the Oxford vaccine you will be with us for 10 minutes after vaccination – you don’t get a choice on the day we inform patients at the time of booking what vaccine will be administered on the day – you can refuse by all means.
  • ‘All vaccinating staff wear PPE and the marshals wear face masks and hand gel regularly – all staff complete a COVID Lateral Flow Test prior to working.
  • ‘We are doing everything we can to roll out the vaccinations as fast as possible’.

General Advice

‘Please bear with your doctors’ surgeries as some things may take longer than normal due to dealing with patients with COVID and rolling out the vaccination programme. Use your local pharmacy and the NHS website for advice, but do not delay if you are unwell or have serious health concerns. All Chiswick Surgeries are here and open to support you’.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: All you might want to know about Covid in our area – Kelly O’Neill, Director of Public Health for Hounslow

See also: Christmas impact – Covid cases up by nearly 50% in Chiswick 

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