Outstanding over-70s, clinically extremely vulnerable and health and social care workers are now being told to contact the NHS to book their Covid vaccination appointment – in a first for the vaccination campaign.
Up until now, patients have been asked to sit tight and wait to be contacted by the NHS for their appointments, with the Government saying the change comes in a bid to ‘ensure absolutely everyone is offered the vaccine’.
It stressed that anyone who is not in any of the top four priority groups – as determined by the JCVI – should not contact the NHS.
NHS England said that the ‘easiest’ way for patients to make their appointment is via the online national booking website, or for those without internet access by calling 119.
However, it added: ‘If a suitable and convenient slot is not available people can also call their GP practice. ‘
A communication from one CCG, in Essex, specified that GP practices, ‘in the event of calls from eligible people’ should either ‘book people into a future clinic’ or ‘ensure people are added to a priority list of future people to contact when further vaccine becomes available / clinics are confirmed’.
NHS England said this comes as GP teams have been asked to chase their clinically extremely vulnerable patients to ensure they get their vaccination.
Anyone who has received a letter telling them to shield in 2021 will receive an invite from both NHS England and their GP, NHS England added.
But it said: ‘People in priority groups who are given a vaccination appointment by both their local GP team and the National Booking Service should cancel the one they do not want so the slot can be used by someone else.’
The news comes as GPs have warned that 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.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said that ‘thanks to the huge efforts of the NHS, volunteers and local authorities’ an ‘incredible’ 12 million people are now vaccinated, including 90% of over-70s, with the NHS ‘on track’ to reach all top-four priority patients by the 15 February deadline.
Speaking in Monday evening’s coronavirus briefing, he said: ‘The NHS has worked hard to contact everyone in groups 1 to 4. But we want to be certain. So, from today, I have a message for everyone aged 70 and above.
‘Until now, we’ve said please wait for the NHS to contact you. But now that message is changing. If you live in England, and are 70 and over, and have not yet got an appointment to get vaccinated please contact the NHS.
‘The easiest way is to do this is through the National Booking Service, online at nhs.uk. Or if you can’t get online then you can call 119 or you can speak to your local GP practice.’
Mr Hancock also said that uptake so far from the vaccination programme is much higher than expected – with the Government having expected this to be at 75%.
Instead, he said uptake as it stands stands at 91% among over-80s, 95% among those aged 75-59, and ‘almost 75%’ in the 70-74s age group (which is still being vaccinated).
NHS England primary care director Dr Nikki Kanani praised the ‘tireless efforts’ of GP colleagues and added: ‘[If] you are aged 70 and over, and haven’t yet received your vaccine, please come forward and make an appointment as soon as you can.’
However, some GPs were bracing themselves for practice phone lines being jammed following the change in strategy.