UPDATE 26 JANUARY: Heathfield GP Surgeries have now been able to join Greater Weald PCN colleagues in order to vaccinate patients from their surgeries in Heathfield. This week they are contacting their patients aged 75 and over to invite them to vaccination appointments in Heathfield. This is very good news which I know local patients will welcome. This has become possible due to increased supplies of the Oxford/Astra Zeneca vaccine which they are able to store and transport.
Letter to constituents dated 15 January 2021:
Today, I have spoken to the Sussex Community NHS Foundation, to the practice team at the Heathfield and Firs surgeries and the Vaccines Minister.
For those patients of the Heathfield and Firs surgeries who are over the age of 80 years, I am pleased that you will soon be receiving your call to attend the Uckfield Meads surgery for your vaccination. All formalities have been completed, websites are updated and it is expected that the vaccinations will take place next week at Uckfield. I know that booking calls have already been received by some residents. This is good news.
I share the frustration of residents from Heathfield, and nearby, that they are required to travel 9 miles to Uckfield. As I’ve stated previously, this is not optimal and we need a more local solution. However, I’d urge residents to take up their vaccination booking in Uckfield and get immunised. This is the most important point.
To a local solution, the team at the Heathfield and Firs surgeries are keen to deliver the vaccine in Heathfield. However, they are not in a position to handle the Pfizer vaccination. This is understandable and applies equally to other surgeries in rural Rother who are also not equipped to handle the Pfizer vaccine; it requires storage at -70C and has other logistical hurdles which makes it better suited to larger centres.
Whilst I have been successful in getting NHS England to reopen the window for GPs to sign up to the vaccination delivery, I now need to make the case for NHS England to change, and simplify, the terms of the contract for GPs so they sign up. I have asked that a new form of contract be offered to GPs which would deliver the Astra Zeneca vaccine only and have more flexibility on opening hours. With this type of contract, our GPs in Heathfield, Cross in Hand, and other rural parishes and towns, would be more able to sign up and then start delivering the vaccine locally. If pharmacists can offer this vaccination model, or mobile units can attend with Astra Zeneca, then we should be able to equip our GPs with Astra Zeneca only so they can play their part. GPs know the challenges of their patients best of all. They have demonstrated that they can vaccinate when delivering the flu vaccine. We need to ensure our GPs have access to the same contract offer.
The Vaccines Minister has explained to me that NHS England has to balance supply and that two thirds of the 2 million doses to be supplied nationally next week will be from Astra Zeneca. I’ve replied to state that unless rural GPs know that they will not receive the Pfizer vaccine, they will not sign up and that the roll-out to rural areas will take longer. Surely, I argued, we can split supplies between urban and rural. I will continue to make this point until we get change.
I hope that residents from Heathfield, and its surrounds, are aware that their GP practices are keen to help deliver the vaccine locally. I am determined to help with their quest. It is clear to me that the Heathfield and the Firs practice teams care passionately about their patients and want to deliver for them. I would hope that everyone in the community will support their local surgeries and staff at this difficult time.
In additional news, the vaccination centre in Etchingham village hall will be vaccinating from next week for patients of GPs based in rural Rother (including Battle). A pharmacy-led solution is being planned for Ticehurst which may allow more flexibility across the community.
I’d like to thank the NHS and our GP practices for everything they have been doing to speed up a delivery. I’d also like to thank the Parish Council for their help in delivering a solution. Finally, I would like to thank residents for their patience and forbearance. I am looking forward to us clearing through the list of over 80 year olds and moving further down the priority cohort lists.
Member of Parliament for Bexhill and Battle