Exclusive NHS England’s approach of offering patients a choice of getting vaccinated at a local GP or mass vaccination site is ‘unnecessary duplication’ which causes ‘confusion’ for patients, GPs have warned.
In some cases, patients made unnecessary journeys of up to 100 miles to mass vaccination centres because they did not understand the system, GPs claimed.
GPs have told Pulse their practices are fielding large numbers of calls from patients confused about having received an NHS England invitation for a jab at a mass vaccination site, separate to invitations made directly by their GP.
On sending out the first letters last month (10 January), NHS England said ‘those who cannot or do not want to travel can wait to be invited to their local GP service or hospital’.
But Dr Irfan Malik, a GP partner in Nottingham, told Pulse: ‘Patients are receiving one letter for the national vaccination centres and another one for local vaccination centres.
‘This is causing a lot of confusion for elderly patients, as some are being asked to travel 40 miles away when local centres are nearby.’
He added that ‘there needs to be coordination’ between the national booking system for vaccination centres and local sites, and that a ‘one system approach’ would be better.
Dr Helen Salisbury, a GP in Oxford, told Pulse that there has been ‘unnecessary duplication’ and that ‘GP surgeries have lists of patients we can invite in order of priority’.
Some patients with existing vaccination centre appointments have – after receiving a letter from their GP practice – called up the surgery intending to cancel and rebook there, she added.
Dr Neil Moody-Jones, a GP in Hampshire, told Pulse this has been the case with ‘many patients’ in his area too. He added that some even travelled long distances to the vaccination centres – not understanding they would be offered a jab locally at some point.
He said: ‘I was told that one patient who seems to have had a national letter travelled over 100 miles for their first injection. We would have got them in probably the next week if they had waited to be contacted.’
However, this comes as the Government worked through January to ensure everyone in England would be ‘within 10 miles’ of a mass vaccination site.
Dr Neil Moody-Jones added that he has seen a copy of the mass vaccination centre invitation letter and found it to be ‘long and complicated’, and said his PCN has emailed all its patients over 70 clarifying that they can ignore the letters and wait to be contacted by them.
He added: ‘The letters caused a significant increase in phone calls. I asked our reception team a few weeks ago (when the letters started) and they estimated that over 66% of calls were in reference to the letters in the few days after they were sent out. We had a queue of 3 people at reception at one time all holding their letters.’
The issue around Covid jab invitations also came up in a Commons debate this week (2 February), with Labour MP Afzal Khan stating that pharmacy-led vaccination centres are ‘struggling to navigate the confusion caused by the two online booking systems’.
Pulse’s sister title the Pharmacist reported on one pharmacy site which claimed the issue has led to patients blocking its phone lines, adding it had turned into a ‘complaints centre’.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said he would look into the issue. He added: ‘There are two different routes through which people can get a jab: the mass vaccination centres or GPs. People are often invited to both, and that is okay. They can take one or the other, whichever is most convenient.
‘If they get an invitation to a vaccination centre that is a bit of a distance away and want to wait for a closer one, they can do so. That closer invitation from the local GPs will come. A lot of people appreciate the opportunity essentially to go as soon as possible, which is why we have two different routes. I understand the importance of making that clear to everybody and ensuring that they are as deconflicted as possible.’
The concerns come as NHS England has said people aged 18 and over in the clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) cohort will be receiving invitations to receive their jabs at mass vaccination centres this week.
An NHS England spokesperson told Pulse: ‘The letters sent to patients are clear – if you are invited to receive your first vaccine at a mass vaccination centre or pharmacy but would rather receive it from your local GP site, you should wait to be contacted by them. If you have already booked your vaccine at a local GP-led service and receive another invitation, you should ignore it.’
The BMA called last month for NHS England to prioritise GP hubs for limited Covid vaccine supplies, rather than having vulnerable elderly travel to mass vaccination centres.