Medical centre staff verbally abused during first wave of COVID-19 vaccinations

Nigel Whitaker is given the Covid vaccine by Carly Reed at Bridport Medical Centre

A “torrent of verbal abuse and threats” was unleashed on staff at Bridport Medical Centre during the first stage of coronavirus vaccines – and it will not be tolerated.

The centre was chosen by Jurassic Coast Primary Care Network (PCN) – a collaboration of Barton House Surgery in Beaminster, Bridport Medical Centre, The Tollerford Practice in Beaminster, Lyme Regis Medical Centre and Charmouth Surgery – to deliver 975 doses on Wednesday, December 16.

Staff, including some nurses from Lyme Regis, delivered all 975 vaccinations in one day and have been praised for their “military precision” organisation.

However, some patients were unable to get an appointment and were “inconvenienced”, which resulted in abuse to staff and volunteers.

Andy Finucane and Dani Farrell, clinical directors of Jurassic Coast PCN, said: “Sadly, several people who were unable to get an appointment or were inconvenienced by traffic thought it was appropriate to unleash a torrent of verbal abuse and threats on tired staff.

“Whilst we understand that people are anxious to receive the vaccine, such behaviour will not be tolerated and staff deserve to be treated with respect and kindness.

“We have also received a high number of telephone calls and emails into all PCN practices from patients disappointed about being unable to be part of this first cohort.

“As stated in the invitation letter sent to patients, there are over 3,700 patients in our PCN who are over 80, and we were given a single box of 975 vaccines with five working days’ notice to invite patients in.

“Owing to uncertainty around anticipated uptake, invitation letters were sent to approximately 1,700 clinically prioritised patients. Demand for the vaccine vastly outstripped what was expected at such short notice, and additional screening questions introduced by NHS England on the first day of booking meant that each booking took approximately five minutes to make.

“Unfortunately, as a result, the designated telephone line became blocked and we were forced to change our process.

“Managers, doctors and reception teams covered 10-hour shifts across Saturday and Sunday in a concerted drive to proactively fill all 975 appointments in a very short time frame.”

The PCN is reviewing its vaccine booking process moving forward and asks people to be patient and to not contact the practices to ask for a vaccine as this blocks their telephone lines and prevents patients needing medical assistance from being able to contact them.

Dr Finucane and Dr Farrell added: “Please be assured that everyone who wants the vaccine will get it in time, but we need to remember that the process of vaccinating our community is a marathon, not a sprint; to vaccinate this first cohort of patients with two doses will require us to replicate the process six ore times.

“Our ability to continue to offer this service is reliant on the good will and wellbeing of our workforce going above and beyond delivering to meet the increased demand the pandemic has brough to keep people safe.

“In the interim, if you are dissatisfied with the service you are receiving, please think, why not contribute or volunteer to make your community a little brighter?

“This is the beginning of the end of Covid-19 and there is light at the end of the tunnel. We all need to just hold on a little longer and life will get back once again to normality.”

The PCN was asked only 10 days before the arrival of the vaccine into the medical centre if it could volunteer to step up and deliver 975 doses in the first wave nationally.

Dr Finucane and Dr Farrell said: “We would like to thank all the staff and volunteers who helped make a great success to the start of the Covid-19 vaccination program in west Dorset.

“Although we are well practiced in the delivery of annual flu vaccination programs, the roll out of the Covid-19 vaccine has posed significant additional challenges.

“The vaccine itself, though a triumph of human achievement and scientific collaboration, needs to be stored below -70 degrees and once it arrives defrosted into GP practices, has a shelf life of only a few days and is sensitive to light, heat and movement.

“What has been achieved by the hardworking team of practice managers, nurses, administrators, pharmacists and GPs in our network, delivering 975 doses in a single day is astonishing.

“Driven by a genuine desire to protect the most vulnerable people in our community and to give people their lives back, 16 nurses from across the patch saw patients from all over west Dorset come through the medical centre every hour for nine and a half hours continuously.

“The worry that with so much traffic and with everyone over the age of 80, someone might be knocked down, saw several local practice managers donning fluorescent jackets and greeting and guiding drivers who arrived in the car park. Fortunately, the day went without incident.

“This would not have been possible without the input from local volunteers who did a super job, standing in the wind and rain all day and ensuring the smooth flow of patients through the building.

“All who participated in the day knew they were participating in a bit of history in the making. There was a real sense of excitement as staff arrived at 7am from all the neighbouring practices.

“Despite a hiccup at the start of the day where a combination of vaccinators getting used to the tricky process of reconstituting the new vaccine for the first time and patients arriving slightly earlier than their appointment time, resulting in some patients having to wait outside for 10 to 15 minutes, the atmosphere was good humoured.

“Once the team got up to speed, the flow through the building went like clockwork.

“Patients, many of whom have been shielding for months, were grateful and their gratitude kept the team energised all day.

“It really was a pleasure to feel part of such a collaborative project.”

Woodmead Halls

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