The British Medical Association (BMA) and Care England are urgently calling for all health and social care workers to be vaccinated no later than the end of January and those at greatest risk of contracting Covid-19 within two weeks.
They say this is essential to protect an already depleted workforce and to help prevent the NHS becoming overwhelmed in the next three weeks.
So far the government’s approach to vaccinating staff has been ad hoc and often chaotic, some hospital trusts and GP practices have been able to vaccinate reasonable numbers of staff, others very few, or not at all.
The slow pace of vaccination is leading to very significant staff absences because they either have the virus or are having to self-isolate, this has a direct knock-on impact on patient care.
They are also keen to ensure that no vaccines go to waste due to poor organisation at vaccination sites and is backing calls for second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to be offered as soon as possible, in line with World Health Organisation guidance.
Professor Martin Green, CEO, Care England said: ‘Vaccinating care home residents and staff is a priority and the vaccine roll-out needs to continue apace, it simply cannot come fast enough.
‘To date, the roll out has been fairly patchy and we hope and expect this to be more comprehensive as every day counts.
‘Care home staff are our biggest resource and we need to protect them as quickly as possible.’
The BMA chair of council, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said healthcare workers are the most important cog in the coronavirus ‘care machine’ but remain at constant risk of becoming infected.
‘There are almost 27,000 patients with Covid-19 being treated in hospitals in England, an increase of more than 50% since Christmas Day.
‘Hospitals are becoming like warzones, and healthcare workers are the exhausted foot soldiers on the front line. GPs are similarly pushed to the limit delivering an unprecedented mass vaccination programme in the community seven days a week.
‘All of these workers are at constant risk of becoming infected, yet they are, beyond all doubt, the most important cog in the Covid-19 ‘care machine’.
‘If they fall ill with the virus and cannot work, there will be reduced care, fewer vaccinations given, fewer medical procedures and less patients getting better and going home from hospital where they may then need GP care; they are also at huge risk and working often 18 hour days.
‘The Prime Minister has promised that 13m vaccinations will be given by the middle of February. This is a mammoth task and we need assurances from the government that the supply of vaccines can match that target, that health and care staff are a priority, and that they can book an appointment to be vaccinated from next week.
‘Vaccinating health and care workers won’t stop them being exhausted, and won’t stop them feeling the stress and anxiety of not having enough time, or beds, to give patients the care they need.
‘But it will give them protection from this deadly virus and drive down on rates of sickness absence and necessary isolating, which are leaving services brutally exposed. Giving all healthcare workers a Covid-19 vaccination could save their lives so they can help save yours.’
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the NHS in every part of the UK has already set up hundreds of vaccination sites to ensure those most in need can receive their jab as quickly as possible. Vaccination sites have been ensuring unfilled appointments are used to vaccinate healthcare workers who have been identified as high risk.
‘Health and social care staff have always been prioritised for the COVID-19 vaccine, since the start of the programme, along with those of older age, starting with those who have been identified at highest risk of serious illness and hospitalisation from COVID-19.
‘More than 730 vaccination sites have already been established across the UK and hundreds more are opening this week to take the total to over 1,000, helping those who are most at risk from COVID-19 to access vaccines for free, regardless of where they live.’
The BMA said it will be running a survey of members twice a week to track how quickly the government is getting doctors protected.
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