Published: 10:15, 15 January 2021
| Updated: 10:28, 15 January 2021
Higher demands on fewer GP surgery staff working due to self-isolation and sickness is leading to frustrations over roll out of coronavirus vaccines.
Vulnerable and elderly people are anxiously waiting to be contacted by the NHS for an appointment with parts of Medway waiting for a vaccination centre to open up.
Health bosses, doctors, council officers and politicians say they are trying to find solutions, particularly for the Hoo Peninsula, while the NHS in Kent and Medway said about 10% of its 200-plus GP surgeries are yet to have coverage.
Vaccination centres in the community are open in Rainham, Gillingham and Chatham but plans to set up one in Strood hit a snag with an IT issue meaning opening has been delayed by a week, the Messenger understands.
Groups of GP practices close to each other have come together to form primary care networks (PCNs) which are responsible for managing vaccines alongside running their regular services.
Meanwhile, Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst says she will be pushing harder for a vaccine centre to be opened on the Peninsula amid fears vulnerable villagers in more isolated parts of Medway are being left behind.
She said: "I am pleased that some GP surgeries in Rochester and Chatham have started to vaccinate our most vulnerable from Friday, and as of Monday more surgeries are starting to roll-out the vaccine.
“Full plans currently being finalised for vaccine coverage in Strood, Cuxton and Halling, and the Peninsula. I am urgently chasing up health officials to see what the plans are and I will let residents know as soon as I can.
“I absolutely understand everyone’s sense of urgency with getting this vaccine delivered. I am doing all that I can, engaging with the CCG, NHS England, and government ministers, to make sure that my constituents in the first four priority groups will be vaccinated as soon as possible.
“I must stress that people should not ring surgeries to ask when they are getting a vaccination as they will be unable to give you information. People will be contacted by the NHS when they are able to get the vaccine."
Centres need to be checked they have enough space to ensure social distancing along with a range of other factors including parking, location, vaccine storage facilities and enough staff members to run the service.
A volunteer scheme is being co-ordinated by the NHS to ensure people can staff centres and also help drive people who might have trouble getting to their nearest site.
Assurances have been made that plans for care homes and housebound residents to be visited for their vaccine continue to be finalised.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged those in the highest priority groups – 15 million people – will receive their first dose of the vaccine by mid-February.
This covers care home residents and staff, the over 70s, all frontline health and social care workers and all those clinically extremely vulnerable.
The Kent and Medway CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group) said this week 90% of its 200-plus GP surgeries are covered by a vaccine centre.
Cllr Teresa Murray (Lab), opposition health spokesman at Medway Council, said the entire health system is reporting much higher levels of staff absence meaning it is taking longer for centres to be set up than initially hoped.
She added the concerns about the Hoo Peninsula could be solved by converting the Chattenden testing centre for vaccines.
"Some of the networks have just taken longer to get going," Cllr Murray said.
"Older people have said they are getting to get a second jab. It's definitely started in Rainham and Gillingham and has widened out to Chatham but Rochester and Strood is where they aren't getting going.
"Given Medway’s high rates of infection it’s not good enough at the moment."
Cllr Murray said she felt because "expectations have been so high" it was having an impact on those yet to be contacted.
She added while she supported the government's high targets, the required resources needed to made available for staffing to set up and run the centres.
Volunteers are being recruited to help marshall and direct patients to ensure centres run as smoothly as possible.
But Cllr Murray, who has signed up, says the process of risk assessments and checks meant this was not happening fast enough.
Dr Julian Spinks, medical director at Medway Practices Alliance, said after a slow start the vaccination process had picked up “surprisingly well” across the Towns.
The GP, who works at the St Mary’s Island surgery, said the jabs are due to start being rolled out an affiliated practice, St Mary’s Medical Centre in Vicarage Road, Strood next week.
He said: “People are saying why don’t we open 24/7 but it is not as simple as that.
“We have to have centres with enough room to allow people to queue and allow for the 15 minute observation period afterwards. If we rush into this we could end up with more problems than we can solve. It is tricky, but must be done safely.
“Getting and freeing up staff to do the vaccine is also a challenge. We don’t have a healthy living centre in central Chatham, so we have to rely on the Strood centre. I have visited it and overall there is a spirit of enthusiasm to get this going.
"This is such a priority. We want volunteers to come forward to meet and greet but at the end of the day they can’t replace qualified staff to carry this out safely.”