New vaccine centres opening amid concerns over local roll-out

Council and NHS leaders working to improve take-up of Covid-19 vaccine in Waltham Forest, reports Victoria Munro, Local Democracy Reporter, and James […]By Waltham Forest Echo

A Covid-19 vaccine vial (credit Katrina Campbell)
A Covid-19 vaccine vial (credit Katrina Campbell)

Council and NHS leaders working to improve take-up of Covid-19 vaccine in Waltham Forest, reports Victoria Munro, Local Democracy Reporter, and James Cracknell

Two new mass Covid-19 vaccination sites will soon be opening in Waltham Forest.

Chingford Leisure Centre and Walthamstow Library have been selected as new sites. It will help create the capacity needed to give out more second doses.

Sue Boon, from Waltham Forest Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), told a meeting of Waltham Forest Council’s health scrutiny committee this week: “Chingford Leisure Centre will open as a large-scale site later on in March.

“We have also got plans to open a site at Walthamstow Library and are working very closely with our colleagues in the council to make those sites operate really effectively.”

Asked by Conservative committee member Catherine Saumarez if there could be a drop-in centre in future, she said the CCG “has not got confirmed plans” but was “going to need to be developing that”.

Sue said the local NHS was also trying to improve uptake of the vaccine among black African and Carribean residents, as well as the homeless and those with learning disabilities. A pop-up clinic at Lea Bridge Road Mosque was deemed a success.

Data from mid-February suggested that East London was lagging behind every other local area in England in its roll-out of vaccine first doses. The latest figures show that, as of 18th February, more than 37,500 Waltham Forest residents had received their first dose of the vaccine – 13.5% of the population. This compares to 25.2% of the UK population getting their first dose.

A report prepared for this week’s committee meeting stated that only 40% of health and social care staff in Waltham Forest had received a Covid-19 vaccine, but the council’s public health consultant Russell Carter noted this figure had “improved quite significantly” to more than 60% since the report was written.

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Earlier this week, activists warned that undocumented migrants, who the government is trying to encourage to take the jab, were being wrongly turned away from GPs.

On 8th February the government announced an amnesty for undocumented residents, reassuring them there would be no immigration checks at vaccine centres. Those willing to get vaccinated to protect themselves and others will still need to be registered with a GP, however, and Waltham Forest activists claim this has proved a barrier for many.

GPs are not meant to insist on ID or proof of address from those who cannot provide it but Averil Pooten Watan, of St Barnabas Church, says some members of her congregation have still been turned away by local practices.

She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “They just feel helpless really that they are not able to do the right thing and register.

“Two people I have spoken to have just said they can’t do it because the practice has asked for proof of address.

“These people live in Waltham Forest, some of them for ten to 20 years, but they will rent a room, they do not have a tenancy agreement or utility bills to prove their address.

“People are so embarrassed to go back and try again that I fear [the NHS] is going to lose them. I do not know if I can make them feel comfortable enough to go back.” 

Mary Logan, a retired GP from Waltham Forest Save Our NHS, added the CCG needs to better communicate to GPs that they can register patients without proof of address. Practices have no duty to seek evidence of identity or immigration status, as stated on the British Medical Association website, and can even use the GP address itself to register a patient if necessary. 

Mary said: “It’s not about criticising the practices, it’s about the CCG needing to aid them to get around this problem. 

“What is the CCG actually doing to ensure that care is being facilitated rather than a system which deliberately or unwittingly deters [undocumented residents]?”

A spokesperson for Waltham Forest CCG said: “We are continuing to work with our partners to identify people who are eligible for a vaccine but not currently registered with a GP to ensure they are offered an appointment.

“We will follow up with individual practices if any issues are brought to our attention.”

Labour councillor Tony Bell added the committee’s thanks to the council officers and GPs who had managed the Covid-19 vaccine rollout and said: “Sometimes I’m not sure it’s appreciated by the general public that people are organising and managing such a complicated process in such a difficult time.” 

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