Hospital bosses at Barts Health Trust have written to staff today expressing their frustration over the decisions by NHS England, which meant the northeast of London – where the rate of infections and hospitalisations are worst – has not been given access to any vaccines.
The Independent has learned that staff from the Royal London booked appointments to be vaccinated at University College London, but they were turned away because the vaccinations had been earmarked for NHS staff from University College London Hospital Trust.
It comes as Boris Johnson announced more than 500,000 people had now had their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
The trust’s chief medical officer wrote to senior doctors on Monday warning them the crisis facing the hospital would get worse before it gets better.
Professor Alistair Chesser told staff: “It has been frustrating to see the vaccine delivered to other trusts and to GP surgeries but not to us in the last few days given the pressure we are under. Please be assured we are lobbying for our staff and our patients at the very highest levels and will not let this rest.”
He said the trust would prioritise staff working with Covid patients first and was hoping to start vaccinations within days but this had yet to be confirmed.
He added: “This is going to be a Christmas like no other. The rise in number of admissions for Covid to our wards has been steep in the last month, and the prediction is that this rise will continue into the first week of January and perhaps beyond. Things will get more difficult for us before they get easier.”
He said both senior and junior staff were being redeployed and even asked to move hospitals and cancel holidays to cope with the surge in patient admissions which was forcing operations to be cancelled.
The Royal London Hospital had 166 Covid patients on its wards on Monday, the highest of any London hospital. Barts Health Trust overall had more than 465 patients across its five hospitals, equivalent to 28 per cent of the trust’s total available beds.
Senior clinicians at the trust said it was a mistake by NHS England not to designate the trust as a vaccine hub. There are five hospitals designated as hubs in London, meaning they can vaccinate the public and staff. Four of the hospitals are in south London while the worst surges in infections have been in the northeast of the city.
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Across London the number of Covid-19 patients has increased by 40 per cent in a week to Saturday.
Experts on the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation have recommended those aged over 80 should be prioritised for vaccinations with NHS staff second on the list. Most staff can only get vaccinated if their hospital have unused doses after vaccinating elderly and vulnerable patients first.
One doctor from the Royal London Hospital told The Independent the trust had been taking a “hammering” from Covid-19 yet staff were surprised to see NHS colleagues in less busy hospitals elsewhere in the country getting vaccinated first.
Another consultant said they were concerned patients aged over 80 were also not being vaccinated when they were discharged from the trust as it had no vaccines available.
The Independent understands senior clinicians have expressed their anger over the decision with the trust chief executive Alwen Williams said to have lobbied NHS England last week to give the trust access to the Pfizer vaccine.
The Doctor’s Association UK has written to Matt Hancock expressing its concern over the way the NHS is being distributed.
In the letter vice chair, Dr Jenny Vaughan said they were “hearing every day that staff on the frontline feel that they are being desperately pitched against each other in order to receive the vaccine”.
Ms Vaughan continued: “We hear stories of vans driving past hospitals and GP surgeries in London with the highest numbers of cases of Covid-19, only to stop at other hospitals and surgeries in areas with nowhere near such risk for healthcare workers. Delivery of the vaccine appears patchy at best.”
She said frontline A&E staff and intensive care nurses and doctors should be a priority because of sickness and self-isolation significantly affecting nurse to patient ratios and available beds.
The letter added: “Heading into the toughest winter the NHS has ever seen, the announcement of a new, more transmissible strain of Covid-19 could have disastrous impacts on frontline staff and patients if the government does not act now. It is essential that the mistakes of the first wave are not repeated.”
A spokesperson for NHS London did not explain why some GPs and other NHS staff had been vaccinated before those in higher risk hospital sites but in a statement said: “Hospital hubs are required to vaccinate in line with clear clinical priorities independently set by JCVI and agreed by government, so in this first phase that means focusing on patients aged 80 and over as well as care homes, and it does not yet include routine NHS staff vaccination which will be next as more vaccine becomes available in the New Year.”
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