A ‘national vaccination service’ is required to ensure GPs are not asked to stop routine care again, health secretary Sajid Javid has told MPs.
Speaking at a House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee hearing yesterday afternoon, Mr Javid suggested the service could cover ‘other vaccines’ as well as Covid jabs.
Mr Javid told MPs that the approach will be set out in more detail in the elective recovery plan, due ‘in the next few weeks’.
The hearing heard MP Dr Luke Evans, who is also a GP, ask Mr Javid about his approach to NHS being ‘able to scale back up again’ – as it has been forced to do in response to Omicron – noting that it is a ‘tough ask for the staff and the NHS in itself’.
Mr Javid replied that ‘it is a huge ask’, adding that the elective recovery plan will ‘set out’ how the NHS can prepare for ‘living with Covid’, including when it comes to vaccination drives.
He said: ‘What we can’t have every time we’re trying to encourage people to take a Covid vaccine is, we can’t ask GPs to stop doing their regular work. We can’t have that.
‘That can be an emergency response now, but in the future, we’ve got to have a national vaccination service that is able to deal with Covid vaccines as well as other vaccines without drawing in workforce from the rest of the NHS.
‘That’s one thing and the same applies, by the way, to making use of antivirals and testing and having a separate process to deal with that.’
Asked if the service could handle routine vaccinations as well as pandemic emergencies, the Department of Health and Social Care told Pulse the plans were ‘yet to be decided’.
The health secretary’s comments, made as GPs were asked to prioritise the booster campaign over routine care before Christmas, come as the NHS has waited for the Government’s plan for clearing the elective backlog since the Autumn.
It had most recently been due to be published in December, according to previous comments made by Mr Javid to the health select committee.
Yesterday, he said: ‘I was planning to publish it in December, then Omicron came along, so I hope to get it out as soon as I possibly can, in the next few weeks.’
Meanwhile, asked by health committee members about concerns for losing staff to the NHS vaccine mandate, Mr Javid said that the Government is ‘reflecting’ on the matter.
He noted that the Omicron variant is ‘intrinsically less severe’ than Delta, but also ‘more transmissible’ and it is ‘it certainly is [severe] for the 15,000 people in hospital’.
He added: ‘I think it is right in light of Omicron, that we reflect on all this and keep all Covid policies properly under review.
‘And because Omicron is different to Delta, equally we don’t know what the next variant is going to be… but we are reflecting on this.’
According to Mr Javid, it is the ‘professional duty of every NHS worker to get vaccinated’ because ‘the patient’s safety must come first’.
Despite this ‘some people may ultimately not get vaccinated despite whatever information you provide them with’, which will be ‘a cost’ to the NHS.
‘No one wants anyone, not one person, to leave the NHS because of this reason’, he said.
His comments come as the Government this week stood by plans to introduce the mandate from 1 April, while the RCGP called for a delay to the implementation date.
Up to 3,000 GP staff may have to be dismissed, as NHS England guidance said redeployment into non-patient-facing roles is ‘not guaranteed’.