AN ARMY of 10,000 volunteers drafted in to help rapidly roll out the Covid vaccine hasn’t materialised, GPs have today warned.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said 530,000 doses of the Oxford jab would be ready for Monday – with 3.5million to follow within the month.
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But alongside the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine which is currently being given out to the most vulnerable, doubts have been raised about scaling up.
The Army currently has 5,000 personnel deployed in the Covid-19 response but doctors warn the “jabbing workforce” needs a significant boost.
More than 940,000 people in the UK have received a Covid-19 vaccine as of December 27, the Department of Health said.
A total of 944,539 people were given a first dose between December 9 and 27, including 786,000 in England, 92,188 in Scotland, 35,335 in Wales and 31,016 in Northern Ireland.
But as more vaccines are approved experts have questioned whether or not the staff levels in place will be sufficient.
The Royal College of GPs today told The Telegraph that a larger work force would be needed to scale up to hit the two million doses a week target.
Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the RCGP council said so far, the number of jabs given have been possible with the workforce already in place.
He said that GPs and nurses having been taking time out for one or two days to deliver the jabs before going back into work.
Prof Marshall cautioned: “When we get into the kind of mass vaccination territory, obviously supplies permitting, we will need a larger workforce.”
He added that the most important workforce would be retired health professionals.
He said: “I don’t think we’re going to go from where we are now, with 700,000-800,000 people being vaccinated, to two million people being vaccinated per week, I think that’s going to take longer than we suspect.”
Officials had previously claimed an army of volunteers would help get the jabs in the arms of millions of Brits.
Airline staff, lifeguards, military personnel and midwives had all been in line to get the vaccine out.
But retired doctors have said they are being stopped from returning to the Covid frontline by “impossible” NHS red tape – including providing 21 pieces of evidence.
Volunteers accused bosses of ignoring their calls and claim only one in eight retired doctors and nurses have been able to return to work.
Dr Melanie Jones, a former anaesthetist in South Wales, said medics were being asked to supply “20 pages of evidence” to administer jabs.
She sparked fury when she tweeted a picture of the documents required to sign up to the volunteer programme.
Addressing the picture, she said: “The red tape faced by retired doctors who want to help the vaccination roll-out. Twenty pieces of evidence most of us simply don’t have. Really?”
Former doctor Claire Barker said she was unable to help in the pandemic fight because she didn’t have enough proof of her credentials.
She felt it was “impossible” for her to join the frontline, and said it was unlikely even a current doctor could provide the documents required.
Dr Barker, who retired in 2017 after running her own practice for 30 years, told the Telegraph: “I am not proud – if they just want me to point people in the right direction I am happy to do that.
“But I have spent my life doing jabs like this. It is very frustrating.”
Andrew Foster, who co-ordinated workforce supply and deployment for the NHS until July, claimed only one in eight retired doctors and nurses who had applied to re-join the NHS were successful.
He said 40,000 medics applied to re-join the workforce at the start of the pandemic in March.
Of those, 30,000 were eligible but only 5,000 had been given jobs by July.
Mr Foster said he had tried to create a “reserve” of NHS volunteers, but that officials ignored his calls.
While Dr Brian Cooper, a retired consultant physician, said he felt “frustration, disillusion and sadness that we feel we can’t help” after unsuccessfully trying to get back on the front line since April.
An NHS spokesman said they were “delighted that former members of NHS staff have applied to become vaccinators and have completed their online training, and we continue to process these as fast as we possibly can”.
They added that checks were being carried out “regardless of a person’s background”.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said up to 250 teams of combat medics could be made available to help deliver the Covid-19 vaccine rollout across the country.
Mr Wallace however said that there are already 133 army medics in the vaccine taskforce and that there are plans for 250 teams of mobile, medically trained staff who could administer the jab.
Speaking to Times Radio he said:”That would be over 100,000 a day they could potentially deliver if that is requested by the NHS – and we are planning to grow that if possible.”
Since the start of the pandemic, many doctors and nurses who had previously retired from their roles signed up once again in order to aid the coronavirus fight.
But of the 40,000 who applied to return in March, just 5,000 had been recruited by July.
Volunteers from all sectors had put their names forward and many who required further training, such as optometrists and pharmacy technicians said their services had not yet been called on.
READY AND WAITING
The Ministry of Defence said it hadn’t yet received any requests to assist with the new vaccine but that it would be “ready when asked”.
Mr Wallace added: “We don’t impose military mass and military personnel on people.
“If local authorities come to us, if hospitals come via the NHS or regional NHS to us, or anybody else – we find our armed forces assisting across the whole gambit of government – then of course we respond.
“We are always open to delivering that.”
The NHS said it was training tens of thousands of former NHS staff for its vaccination programme.
Speaking to The Telegraph, a government source said: We are supremely confident in the infrastructure that’s in place.
“That’s going to be scaled up in coming weeks in line with the anticipated scaling up of supply.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “The NHS has a clear vaccine delivery plan and today’s figures show once again how our fantastic NHS has risen to this enormous task, providing 944,539 people across the UK with their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
“Now that we have authorised a second vaccine, we can expect this number to rapidly increase in the months ahead.
“With hundreds of vaccination sites now open across the country, I would like to thank the health and care staff who are working so hard to deliver this vaccination programme.”
It comes after it was revealed that GPs would be given a £10 bonus for every patient they give the vaccine to in care homes.
NHS England said GPs will be given the booster payment in addition to the £12.58 fee for each jab.
Patients will need to be visited on site and the NHS said that the extra cash boost will compensate for the “additional time and resources” needed to complete the vaccination.
The most vulnerable have been prioritised for the coronavirus vaccines and that includes those who are in care homes, and their carers.
Primary care networks received a letter asking service providers to ensure the priority groups get the jabs as soon as possible.