‘We have no news’: NHS leaders in the dark over government’s booster rollout plan

Exclusive: ‘Ministers need to get a grip of the booster vaccination programme’, says Labour shadow health secretary Wes Streeting

<p>NHS leaders kept in dark over vaccination programme </p>

NHS leaders kept in dark over vaccination programme

NHS leaders have still not been told how the government expects them to manage a huge expansion of the booster vaccine campaign, nearly a week after the government indicated the move to jab tens of millions of people.

Last weekend, after the emergence of the new omicron variant, the government indicated the booster programme – at the time only available to those over 40 – would soon be expanded, and on Tuesday confirmed that all over-18s would be offered a third jab by the end of January.

Healthcare leaders have since raised concerns over whether they will be able to meet this deadline, which will mean going from 2.5 million jabs a week to 3.5 million, and still maintain routine NHS care.

On Friday, when asked when people would find out how and when they could book their jab, Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson said: “The guidance will be set out shortly,” adding that he did not know “when exactly that will be”.

The government is currently in talks with GP leaders over whether they can stand down contracts to cut out part of their workloads.

Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said he is concerned that the booster jabs plan has yet to emerge – despite the prime minister setting his ambitious target.

“Ministers need to get a grip of the booster vaccination programme. It is imperative that the government hits its target to offer all adults a booster vaccination by the end of January and drive up children’s vaccination rates,” he said.

One senior NHS director in the West Midlands said: “It’s a bit of an issue really, saying they’re going to ratchet up the programme. There’s quite a lot toing and froing and we don’t know quite where it is going to land really in terms of the vaccination programme and how it’s going to be delivered.

“As with every stage of this we’ll find a solution about how to get the vaccine to people, but the way the government has been doing it has been ham fisted.

“They’ve been very negative about GPs over the last few months, particularly around face-to-face contact and now they want them to massively scale up the vaccines. You feel sometimes the left hand is kind of not talking to the right hand. It causes a lot of work locally to work through these issues and try to come up with sensible plans.”

They said the vaccine announcement “was a bit of a surprise to everyone” and added, “there’s a lot of thing being driven by No 10. It doesn’t feel like the decision making is taking place at NHS England.”

Another clinical director said: "Lots of us are working very, very hard to get it delivered but we have no news.” And a healthcare leader in the North West said “we’re meeting with the local GPs and community teams on what they can do but we’ve got nothing specific at the minute around agreeing any services that would not carry on, but I guess the plans are at an early stage.”

Dr Vishal Sharma, co-chair of the British Medical Association’s consultants committee, said: “The NHS is currently tackling a record-breaking backlog, with millions of patients suffering due to the delay. While staff are working flat out, the reality is that the health service has an under-resourced workforce.“

“It’s vital that the government supports the NHS as much as possible to ensure that the booster programme can be delivered without having a detrimental impact on providing important care to non-Covid patients.

“As the BMA set out in its report Weathering the Storm, the NHS will not make it through this winter or recover elective services without a healthy, happy, and well-treated workforce. This should be the government’s priority right now.”

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