Saturday, 23 January 2021

Huge demand for flu jab during covid pandemic

Huge demand for flu jab during covid pandemic

RECORD numbers of patients have had a free flu jab at GP surgeries n the Henley area.

It comes as the number of cases of coronavirus nationally continues to rise.

The vaccine was previously only available to vulnerable patients and those aged 65 and over but the threshold has been lowered to 50.

An extra 1,500 patients at the Hart Surgery in Henley are now eligible, which means as many as 5,500 people could request a jab.

Around 2,220 are over 65 and the surgery has already seen three-quarters of these.

As well as elderly and vulnerable patients, free jabs can also be given to pregnant women, primary school children and frontline health and social care workers.

Dr Will Hearsey, from the Hart Surgery, urged patients to make contact only if they have been invited because of the nationwide demand for the vaccine and fears of a shortage.

He said: “We would ask people not to book unless they’ve been invited to. We’ve got a finite amount of vaccinations and it is more patient-by-patient than people might realise.

“We’ve not got to the stage where we’ve run out but it has been pretty close to the wire. We had a delivery that was slightly late and we’ve had to reschedule people because of that, so it is a fine line.

“We really have to count every single vaccine and we don’t want to get to the stage where we run out of them while there are still at-risk people that haven’t been vaccinated.

“That’s why we’ve been inviting people to the surgery in different cohorts when we know we have the vaccines available.”

Dr Hearsey, who writes the Henley Standard’s Apple a Day column, added: “Even at the best of times, it is always a good idea to have a flu jab and it is always something we recommend because it is such a nasty illness.

“Thousands of people die every year just from flu alone and a lot of people are hospitalised.

“The hospitals will be even busier this year because of covid, so the idea is to get fewer people burdening them with the flu.

“The other reason it is important is because if you get both of them together the outcome will be much worse — you will have a far more severe illness and the risks are much greater.

“We know that flu numbers are worse over the winter and we see more people in hospital, so this is a pre-emptive measure.”

The surgery, which has more than 10,000 patients, managed to administer 700 jabs during the first clinic held in September. This was the most it has ever given in one day and was for adults aged 75 and over and others deemed high-risk aged 65 or over.

The second cohort of patients was seen on October 6 and these were patients aged 18 to 64 with long-term conditions, who would typically qualify for a flu jab.

The third cohort is patients who are 65 and over who were not eligible for the first two clinics as well as household members of shielded patients.

The fourth and final cohort is the 50- to 64-year-olds who are low risk but a date has not yet been set for these clinics.

Vaccinations were ordered at the start of the year before the additional patients were deemed suitable for a free jab and these take time to be delivered to each surgery.

Dr Hearsey said: “It is really good that people have been coming forward and the response has been brilliant. A huge amount of people that I’ve seen this year say it is the first time they’ve ever had a flu jab before.

“That is quite surprising in a way but it is good news. There is no reason not to — it is rare that you will have any side effects. A lot of people think the vaccine will cause flu but that’s not the case.”

He added: “My colleagues and our practice manager have done a brilliant job of organising the new set-up. We have a one-way system to make sure people aren’t crossing over and handwashing is in place.

“It is a real fast-flowing system and people can be seen really quickly. It seems to have worked really well and we’ve had some lovely feedback. Hopefully this winter won’t be as bad as everyone thinks it will be.”

Nearly 900 patients aged 65 and over have received a flu vaccination at the Wargrave Surgery.

The first clinic took place in September and appointments had to be made in advance.

The Victoria Road surgery also sent texts to 150 patients who were not booked in to encourage them to get a jab. The surgery, which has around 7,000 patients, hopes to hold another session for patients 65 and over later in the year.

Stephen Collier, practice manager, praised the efforts of staff in being able to see so many patients in the space of four hours.

He said: “It was incredible and it was a huge effort from everyone. We could only do it because we had five clinicians doing the vaccinations and all the admin staff to help with social distancing.

“It was really nice to see the public showing respect for each other in terms of staying apart and following all the measures we had in place.

“In the past, we would have invited everyone in chunks based on their surnames. This year, we decided to give everyone a two-minute slot when they had to come. This made it easier to stagger the numbers and everyone filled out their forms before coming to see us.

“We had to modify it to make sure we could get people through quickly and safely. A lot more people are making contact with us and we’ve had a much bigger uptake than we did last year.

“People are more concerned this year due to covid and they are worried about potentially getting the virus and the flu at the same time.”

The next set of clinics will be for patients who are under 65 and in the clinical risk group. However, the surgery is awaiting a delivery of the vaccine. When it arrives, the surgery will have enough stock to ensure that 85 per cent of these patients — and 90 per cent in the over 65 group — have received a jab.

It is currently holding mini-clinics for people who are at risk and under 65 and around half of all patients in this category have already been seen.

Mr Collier added: “It is about protecting as many people as possible. It is really important for them to have peace of mind in these scary times. It is more important this year than ever before because of the extra threat of covid. We need to protect not only ourselves but also the people we live and work with, particularly if you are an essential worker in a frontline job.

“We need to be more responsible this year because you don’t know who you’ve been in contact with. We are texting all the people who are eligible when we have appointments and vaccinations available.

“Unfortunately, all our vaccinations are now tied to patients so we will have to wait for the next lot to arrive. The 50 to 64 age range, which includes those who aren’t vulnerable, is new for this year and they won’t be getting their vaccinations until the middle of November.

“I really want to start booking new clinics but I can’t do that until we have the stock in. We’re telling everyone to keep an eye on our website because we will tell them as soon as we can see them.

“We’re doing everything we can but unfortunately we can’t give dates at the moment. We will be advertising and publishing those dates as soon as we can and it is important to keep an eye out.”

At the surgery in Emmer Green, flu clinics have been held by invitation only and the first two were for patients aged 65 and over and 1,240 patients were seen.

The next clinic will be for patients aged under 65, who are vulnerable.

Sharon Bartlett, reception manager, said: “There are more people coming to the surgery who wouldn’t normally come, especially the older generation that have never had the jab before. There does seem to be a lot more family encouragement to have it this year.

“I would like to reiterate that it is very safe. A lot of people, and particularly the older patients, have been a bit scared because they’ve been out very little since lockdown but it is very safe, quick and easy.

“A lot of young people have been ringing up as well and asking if they can have it this year and we are having to ask those people to go to their chemist if they are not high priority. They are quite far down the line.

“We’ve done flu jabs around other appointments as well. If a patient comes in for another purpose, we do try to do it there and then to save them coming in again.”

Two more clinics in Nettlebed this week are for people who were unable to make any of the previous sessions. Any additional clinics will be arranged based on demand and patients who are housebound will be visited by a GP at a pre-arranged time.

Mrs Bartlett said the surgery was coping well in terms of supply of the vaccination.

She added: “We put the orders in early and we were aware of when they were coming. The clinics were organised with a bit of a window just in case they didn’t arrive and I think we’ve managed it very well.

“We’ve only ever put on clinics for what we are able to give, as opposed to hoping we get more people than we can actually see. We don’t want people to be disappointed.

“We’ve put a lot of measures in place to make sure we can see as many people as possible. We’ve got more staff in than normal and there will be someone standing on the door to make sure everyone is social distancing.

“We are sending letters out in advance — normally we would do all of the admin on the day — but they have a barcode on them and the patient hands that over to be scanned onto their notes.

“We’ve had six clinicians working and they just stand in the doorway. Patients get their jab and then they are out the other end of the building, so there is no crossing over.

“We’ve had some really good feedback and people have been really impressed at how quick it has been. We did 600 people in four hours, so that gives you some kind of idea of how smoothly it was run.”

Nettlebed Surgery continues to invite patients aged 65, as well as those under 65 that are designated as at risk, to make an appointment for their jab.

Ann Sadler, practice manager, said: “The vaccination programme is going well, with patients and staff all doing their bit to ensure that everyone remains as covid safe as possible.

“We are anticipating that additional vaccines, which are to be rolled out nationally, will be made available shortly for patients aged 50 to 64.

“When we have the dates of this availability we will arrange for further clinics to be set up for patients in this cohort to book a slot.”

Sonning Common Heath Centre ran dedicated clinics for all ages on two weekdays throughout September and October. These were done by appointment only. Other sessions were organised for residents over 65 and children on three Saturdays.

Dr Ralph Drury, GP partner, said: “We have provided more flu clinics than ever before and the whole team has adapted and worked fantastically hard to provide well-run, efficient flu clinics, keeping patients safe with social distancing and minimising covid risk.

“Clinics were planned with military precision by nursing and admin staff, demonstrating great teamwork. Patients have fed back how well organised the clinics have been.

“Thank you to our patient participation group and our local community first responders for their help as marshals at our clinics.”

Anyone who is eligible and has received a letter from the health centre but not already had their jab is advised to make contact to arrange an appointment. Catherine Cassidy, clinical flu lead nurse, said: “We have vaccinated more than 3,000 patients so far.

“The target was to vaccinate 95 per cent of patients over 65 years and all at-risk groups. We can happily say we have achieved this and more in some groups, for example over 98 per cent of diabetic patients.”

About 2,400 of the most vulnerable patients in Goring and Woodcote were seen across four clinics during last month. These were held using outdoor gazebos to help with social distancing and all appointments had to be pre-booked. Patients were encouraged to walk to the surgeries as parking is limited.

Dedicated flu clinics have already taken place at the Bell Surgery in York Road, Henley. Appointments are now available for frail patients as well as those who were shielding.

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