Inconsistent vaccine supply is making it difficult for GPs in England to book patient appointments more than a few days in advance, experts have warned, as the prime minister admitted there were significant disparities in local immunisation rates.
Doctors, NHS specialists and MPs told the Guardian that batches of the Pfizer and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine frequently arrived with only a couple of days’ notice, requiring last-minute planning and creating uncertainty for patients.
Insiders said the distribution system was operating on a “push model” meaning that doctors could not order the vaccine but simply had to be ready to be receive batches whenever the NHS was able to deliver them.
Ruth Rankine, director of the primary care network for the NHS Confederation, said “it’s no secret that consistency in supplies is an issue” and that the 800-plus GP surgeries already delivering jabs had capacity to do more if the drugs were available.
“The commitment I have seen in the NHS is staggering. People just want to get on and do this. What they are frustrated about is the supply chain is not within their control; it will be possible to vaccinate the 2 million a week needed if the supply is there,” the NHS representative said.
The impact is being felt around the country, with examples including:
In Coventry, out of seven primary care networks only one was distributing the vaccine as of last week, with practices having to cancel scheduled vaccination appointments due to supply problems. One GP was told vaccines would be arriving today, three weeks late.
A vaccination centre covering St Albans, north of London, set up by eight groups of GP practices, only able to operate one or two days a week because of a lack of supply, with deliveries often confirmed only a couple of days in advance. “They want to roll out the vaccine faster,” said local MP Daisy Cooper.
GP surgeries as far apart as Carnforth, north Lancashire, and Twickenham in south-west London reporting in the past few days that they cannot plan appointments more than a week ahead because they do not know what the NHS can supply them. “This is where pressure needs to be exerted on the politicians,” said David Wrigley, a GP in Carnforth and a vice-chair of the British Medical Association.
Parts of England are now being told they cannot start vaccinating those aged between 75 and 80, the third priority cohort, until other areas catch up to leading areas such as the north-east and Yorkshire. “We are told it is levelling up, but what is levelling up for one area is levelling down for another,” one GP said.
Other areas fear they cannot achieve the deadline of vaccinating the top four priority groups by 15 February. Derby and Derbyshire clinical commissioning group is understood to have completed less than 10% of its target so far, according to local sources.
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