Delivering COVID-19 vaccinations in general practice in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire
Shortly after the approval of the first COVID-19 vaccine in December, delivery of COVID-19 vaccinations began in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire. The first sites to open nationally were 50 hospital hubs, including our own at Southmead Hospital. Locally, our intention has always been for general practice to play a key role in vaccinating our people and general practice sites were the next to start vaccinating.
Practices were asked by NHS England to work together in small groups, known as Primary Care Networks, to vaccinate their patients. There are 18 Primary Care Networks (PCNs) in BNSSG and all 18 of our PCNs have chosen to sign up to provide COVID-19 vaccines.
The first of our Primary Care Network sites went live on 15 December and you may have seen the coverage on the local news about Muriel from Weston-super-mare, who was the first BNSSG patient to be vaccinated in general practice. There were four PCN sites who started vaccinating in that first wave – two in North Somerset, one in Bristol and one in South Gloucestershire. Before Christmas, a further nine PCN sites were able to start vaccinating their patients.
The remaining PCNs all begin vaccinating their patients this week and next – meaning that by Friday 15 January, there will be 19 established Primary Care Network vaccine centres across our patch (one PCN is delivering from two sites). Most PCN delivery centres in BNSSG are based at one of the member GP practice sites but we also have one running out of a community centre and one in an unused school building. To date, general practice through PCNs have delivered more than 90% of the vaccinations in BNSSG.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has stated that the initial priority groups for receiving the vaccine are the over 80s, care home residents and health and care staff. Due to challenges around moving the Pfizer vaccine, PCNs started by vaccinating those who were able to attend appointments at their vaccine centre – mainly the over 80s, as well as a small number of health and social care staff. Delivery to care home residents and staff has now started in many of our PCNs too, with brilliant progress being made.
PCNs have done an incredible job to date and look forward to continuing to play an essential role in protecting people in BNSSG against COVID-19. It is important to remember this is a marathon, not a sprint and that the last few weeks is just the beginning. We are in a brilliant starting position in BNSSG, as each neighbourhood will have their own PCN vaccine centre by the end of next week. The government has shared some ambitious plans for vaccinating 13.9 million people by the end of February and our PCNs are eager to help make that happen. This does however depend on having access to sufficient additional workforce as well as a regular and trusted supply of vaccine and consumables.
Everything achieved so far has only been possible thanks to a huge effort from all general practice and Primary Care Network staff to mobilise vaccine delivery within very short timescales. This has involved not just GPs, nurses and managers but also administrative teams, volunteers, car park marshals, security, practice pharmacists and support from local authorities. Many teams have delivered vaccine clinics over the weekend and over the course of long days. The response from patients has been incredible, many of whom have told their practices how grateful they are to be receiving their vaccine and finally seeing a route out of the difficulties of the pandemic. There is much more hard work to come but our PCNs in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire are ready to do everything they can to help successfully deliver the largest vaccination programme in the history of the NHS.