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Kent MP says Covid vaccine supply is cause of 'grave concern'

A Kent MP is "gravely concerned" about an apparent shortage of Covid vaccines faced by GPs in the county.

North Thanet representative Sir Roger Gale says the Government must ensure local primary care networks are adequately supplied - before rolling out more vaccination sites and offering jabs to those in lower age brackets.

Sir Roger Gale speaks to KMTV

The MP says he has been approached by a leading GP in Herne Bay, airing concerns about the supply of vaccines.

"He sent me an email saying they're on track, but they were running short of vaccines," he said. "And if he's got problems, there are real problems."

In Thanet, Minster surgery is being used as the Covid vaccination hub for a primary care network comprising six local doctors' surgeries.

On Saturday, clinicians at the site administered an impressive 1,000 vaccines in the space of a day.

But Sir Roger pointed out this equates to about 150 vaccines per surgery.

"And that's their supply for six practices, for the week," he said. "When you've got an elderly population in the area, that is crazy. It is clearly an issue.

"The Prime Minister says we're going to send out letters to 70-year-olds [inviting them for vaccines] because we're doing so well.

"Meanwhile, 80 and 90-year-olds in Birchington and Westgate and Minster and other areas are not being called for vaccines."

On Twitter this morning, the MP described opening large new vaccination sites and offering vaccinations to septuagenarians - while many NHS staff and more elderly patients have not yet been vaccinated - as "sheer folly".

"We have a good programme that is starting to deliver impressive results but once again we are in danger over-promising and under-achieving - completely unnecessarily," he wrote.

Winifred Prett receiving her Covid jab at Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital in Herne Bay in December - the first vaccine to be administered in the Canterbury district
Winifred Prett receiving her Covid jab at Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital in Herne Bay in December - the first vaccine to be administered in the Canterbury district

"We need to stick to our schedule and our priorities, make sure that existing outlets are adequately supplied and not try to get ahead of the game in some areas at the expense of others."

Sir Roger says he has spoken to other MPs in the county who are also reporting issues with the supply of vaccines.

Yesterday, Whitstable GP John Ribchester told how hundreds of coronavirus vaccine doses had been sent to the wrong GP practice, forcing appointments to be pushed back.

He said supply chain problems remain the "single biggest challenge" for the vaccination programme, as surgeries have to take what they're given.

Sir Roger Gale has now been in touch with Health Secretary Matt Hancock about the county's supply.

"Certainly there is a significant issue in Kent," he said.

"Matt Hancock got straight back to me and said he's on the case. I've now heard from [vaccines minister] Nadhim Zahawi's office saying the minister wants to talk to me about the same problem."

Sir Roger has also questioned why the QEQM Hospital in Margate is not being used as a site for vaccinating Thanet's health workers.

East Kent Hospitals Trust is currently operating a vaccination site at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, while a new centre specifically aimed at healthcare workers opened yesterday at the Spitfire cricket ground beside the Kent and Canterbury Hospital.

"But the QEQM, where one assumes there are one or two people who can just about give a vaccination, has still not been opened for a vaccination," said the MP.

"All hospital workers - everybody who's on site, not just doctors and nurses - should be vaccinated as swiftly as possible, and that means doing it on-site."

The CCG, which is in charge of vaccination hubs, has been approached for a comment.

Yesterday, South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay said he wants to see the vaccination process sped up, saying he has put forward potential sites for an east Kent vaccine “super-centre” to ministers.

He said while the vaccination programme has been progressing “quite well” in his part of Thanet, it has been a different story in and around Sandwich, which falls in his constituency.

“What is becoming clear is that in the medium-term we will need a local super-centre to ensure that east Kent gets its vaccinations at speed and I am looking at various potential sites and putting these to ministers,” he said.

Analysis from Political Editor Paul Francis

Given the government's determination to turbo-charge vaccinations, it perhaps is not surprising that the pace at which it is moving has caused some problems and complaints about the availability of jabs.

Kent has had some of the highest infection rates over the course of the pandemic yet there is as yet no mass vaccination centre of the type that are being established in other parts of the UK.

It's not just an issue of setting up sites to carry out vaccinations but ensuring that GP practices get the supply of jabs they need to safeguard patients.

Thanet North MP Sir Roger Gale identifies the issue in a characteristically forthright manner, saying that there is a danger the government is creating expectations which may not be met.

It does seem odd that the problems of availability are more pronounced in parts of the county.

As is often the case in these issues, it is probably a result not of some kind of conspiracy against Kent but one of bureaucracy.

The government deserves some credit for its foresight over pre-ordering millions of vaccination doses and has a rare degree of goodwill on its efforts to ramp up the numbers of people getting vaccinated.

It needs to ensure, however, that there is not a mismatch between availability and deliverability.

Faith in the government over the way it has responded to Covid-19 is already pretty low and will sink even lower if it cannot meet its timetable for vaccinations, particularly among vulnerable and often scared people.

To keep up-to-date with all the latest developments with your local hospitals and other health stories, click here.

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