By the time you’re reading this, it’s likely most practices will be scrambling around for staff to deliver the second batch of Covid vaccines.
But as I write, this is the second weekend I’ve spent training, planning or modelling in anticipation of our first delivery. And as that delivery will arrive at the end of the week, there is a distinct possibility I may spend a third weekend actually vaccinating if we can’t recruit enough nurses.
No one is denying this is an important cause. The development of multiple vaccines less than a year into a pandemic is a truly remarkable feat. And where better to deliver this triumph than in general practice? We have decades of experience administering vaccination programmes to our lists.
But continuity of care and practice-based attendance does not feature in this Covid vaccination programme. Elderly patients, many with sensory and mobility issues, are being expected to attend a designated site and be vaccinated by unfamiliar staff. This is related to the unique cold-chain storage requirements of the Pfizer vaccine, but it does beg the question, why are GPs even involved with the delivery of such a challenging programme?
It remains uncertain when a less challenging vaccine will be available, but we know it is around the corner. Why not use the Pfizer vaccine at the mass delivery sites and allow GPs to wait for a vaccine they can deliver in-house, as we do with the flu vaccination each year?
I think a comparison of the Covid vaccination programme with the national Test and Trace system offers a simple answer to this question. General practice, with its capitation-based payment, its loyalty to patients and its independent contractor commitment, is as cheap as chips. I wonder which other private organisation would sign up to an enhanced service before the details are even known, making any financial modelling nearly impossible.
In the case of my practice, a vaccine delivery so close to the weekend and the absence of a national protocol for non-registered healthcare professionals means we will be running our first cohort of vaccination clinics at a loss.
Alongside the financial losses, how many chief executives would spend hours of their own time in the evenings and at weekends, preparing their company, awaiting deliveries, and project managing such a colossal task?
The most disturbing question of all is, as GPs are swept away on the vaccination wave, who will be seeing our patients? Many people can be trained to dilute or administer a vaccine, but who can untangle the usual mass of physical and psychological symptoms? Who can juggle the long list of medications for multimorbidity?
Despite the battering the profession has taken in recent times, GPs will always be there for our patients, even if we have to give up our weekends.
The Government knows this and that’s why it chose us. Ministers knew they would get vaccination on the cheap.
Dr Shaba Nabi is a GP trainer in Bristol. Read more of Dr Nabi’s blogs online at pulsetoday.co.uk/nabi
This piece originally appeared in the January print issue of Pulse