GP practices will be asked to ‘clinically prioritise’ Covid booster jabs over routine care, NHS England has said.
GPs will be asked to continue delivering ‘critical appointments such as cancer, urgent and emergency care’, as the Government decided to move the target date for offering all over-18s a booster jab back one month to 31 December.
NHS England said: ‘This might mean that for some people, routine appointments are postponed as part of the national mission to roll out boosters.’
Dr Emily Lawson, director of the NHS Covid-19 vaccination programme said: ‘The NHS is turbo charging the booster vaccination programme so that as many adults in England as possible can top up their immunity against the virus quickly.
‘We know that speed is of the essence and so we will take every opportunity to improve access to the jab, from pop up sites in the community, GP teams doing even more vaccines each day and new sites opening up across the country.’
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a televised statement on Sunday evening: ‘To hit the pace we need, we’ll need to match the NHS’s best vaccination day yet – and then beat it day after day.
‘This will require an extraordinary effort. And as we focus on boosters and make this new target achievable, it will mean some other appointments will need to be postponed until the New Year.
‘But if we don’t do this now, the wave of Omicron could be so big that cancellations and disruptions, like the loss of cancer appointments, would be even greater next year.’
He added: ‘And I know the pressures on everyone in our NHS – from our GPs, doctors and nurses to our porters – all of whom have worked incredibly hard and we thank them for the amazing job they have done.
‘But I say directly to those of you on the front line, I must ask you to make another extraordinary effort now, so we can protect you and your colleagues – and above all your patients – from even greater pressures next year.’
It comes as the UK Chief Medical Officers today increased the UK Covid Alert Level from Level 3 to Level 4 ‘due to a rapid increase in cases of the Omicron variant’.
The Government said that the latest data suggests Omicron is ‘extremely transmissible’ and’ will become the dominant variant by mid-December’. Cases are ‘now doubling every 2-3 days.
Meanwhile, a University of Oxford pre-print study has indicated that increased infections in previously infected, or vaccinated individuals may be likely as a result of Omicron.
But the researchers added that importantly, this effectiveness was improved by a third dose of vaccine.
They also stressed that their study only looked at neutralising antibodies after the second dose, and that they also intend to study cellular immunity.
The Government announced that the booster effort will see:
- New vaccination sites set up across the country, including mobile pop up sites;
- Increasing opening times for vaccination sites, to seven days a week with more appointments early in the morning, in the evening and at weekends;
- 50 military planning experts will help coordinate the national effort by supporting the NHS with logistics of the rollout;
- Reprioritising the NHS workforce to deliver as many jabs as possible;
- A national call for thousands more NHS volunteers.
The news comes just days after the Department of Health and Social Care told Pulse that the introduction of ‘plan B’ restrictions meant ‘no change’ to the GP Access Fund plans.