Vaccination centres have been told to keep in regular contact with police in new NHS England guidance to help GP Covid sites handle abuse from patients.
The guidance includes advice on safety steps that staff and volunteers should take if they are confronted with abusive behaviour, including anti-vaccination protests.
And it suggests vaccine centre managers should help staff and volunteers de-escalate potential flashpoints by using team stand-up meetings to remind everyone to listen with empathy to bring calm to a situation and a safe outcome.
The new guidelines acknowledge patients could become challenging for a number of reasons including a fear of needles, anxiety about being in public after Covid-19 isolation, worries about protecting loved ones or a fear they might catch the virus.
It urges vaccine centre managers to maintain contact with local police so they are aware of specific threats that may affect their area and will be able to help mitigate against them.
The document says regular contact ensures there is a robust mechanism to report any suspicions or potential threats identified by site staff and volunteers.
It said: ‘Maintain regular contact with the police locally so they are aware of specific threats that may affect their area and will be able to help mitigate against them. Regular contact ensures there is a robust mechanism to report any suspicions or potential threats identified by site staff and volunteers.’
Managers are also being urged to use the information pack to outline to staff and volunteers how they can help manage challenging behaviours.
The guidance says: ‘If a volunteer is confronted with an aggressive or abusive situation their personal safety is paramount.
‘While a volunteer has a duty to know when and how to report concerns, they do not have a responsibility to directly resolve an incident.
‘If you are a volunteer and are confronted with any form of aggression you should:
• Acknowledge the person(s)
• Show empathy
• Explain to them you are a volunteer and you are going to find someone to help
• Move away and report the incident to an appropriate member of the site team
The guidance comes after vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi promised to ‘look at anything we can do’ to protect staff at NHS Covid vaccination centre staff against ‘abhorrent’ abuse.
NHS England’s primary care director Dr Nikki Kanani had previously said she would ‘not stand for’ disruption by anti-vaccine protesters at Covid vaccination sites.
GP vaccination centres that have been targeted by anti-vaccination protests during the programme included the Alwoodley Medical Centre in Leeds, which was vandalised with anti-vaccine graffiti messages.
GP practices have also had to put up with abuse from patients who are anxious to get the Covid jab.
New figures showed 85,196,986 vaccine doses have been administered at vaccine centres across the UK, with 46,851,145 people receiving a first dose (88.6%) and 38,345,841 people receiving both doses (72.5%).
Meanwhile, the latest data from Public Health England (PHE) and the University of Cambridge suggested that around 60,000 deaths, 22 million infections and 52,600 hospitalisations had been prevented by vaccines up to 23 July.