Several concerned staff members have spoken out over the decision to close Leyton’s vaccine hub – as bigger Walthamstow Library site is announced, reports Elizabeth Atkin
Staff working at the Oliver Road Medical Centre in Leyton have shared their anger and concern over its imminent closure.
The centre, near Leyton Orient Football Club’s grounds, is due to close its doors later today (Wednesday, 3rd March).
Oliver Road has vaccinated approximately 12,000 local residents with their first doses of Pfizer and Oxford AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines since it opened in early January.
The Forest Road vaccine centre in Walthamstow is also due to close on 31st March – with larger centres for the borough now to be based in the central locations of Walthamstow Library and Chingford Leisure Centre.
Waltham Forest CCG states that the two new vaccine centres will have greater capacity and enable them to roll out jabs faster.
But several workers at Oliver Road told the Echo they are left with concerns about access for elderly, disabled and other vulnerable Leyton residents.
One senior member of staff, who asked not to be named, told the Echo they were informed on 15th February that the site would soon be closed.
The team were vaccinating as many as 500 to 600 patients a day, the Echo is told – with many of their elderly and vulnerable patients due to receive their second doses in early April.
“I think our main concern at that point was our elderly patients. Patients with comorbidities. And also the fact that we wouldn’t have anything being done in the Leyton/Leytonstone area,” says the staff member.
“Because the closest one is going to be the Walthamstow site, which is a library. Understandable. It’s a big site, so we do understand that it can actually pull the capacity much more than we can.”
Staff say the new site’s location in busy Walthamstow brings about potential issues with travel, parking and accessibility for older or disabled patients.
“They are saying that ‘we will provide taxi service’. There are people who are very concerned even getting into a taxi. They walked to the centre for their first vaccine. I think that needs to be taken into account and it is a deprived area. You’ve got to look at the individuals living within this area.”
“The younger population – I’m not discriminating – but you know, they can probably get on the bus, they might be driving. But you’ve got the elderly population, whose children probably live really far away.
“And it’s easy for them to take a ten-minute walk up the road – just getting some fresh air, coming out, having a vaccine and then going home.”
Ultimately, says the staff member, they would’ve wanted to administer second doses to the vulnerable population in Leyton/Leytonstone before closing the site.
“I think we should be given the facility to actually cover the [patients] that we need to come here. Once we’ve done that, then obviously, all the other patients can be moved towards Walthamstow Library. Some people still haven’t had the vaccine [at all].
“We’re all working towards one thing, and that’s to get the population vaccinated.”
Of the new site in Walthamstow, Waltham Forest CCG said in a statement: “The new vaccination centre opening next week at Walthamstow Library is in a central location with good transport links and ample parking available nearby at The Mall shopping centre.
“We have worked with partners to respond to patient feedback and identified and established a more spacious site which will provide an improved on-site experience for people receiving their vaccinations.”
In late January, both Oliver Road and Forest Road came under criticism for long queues, something which the CCG apologised for.
Both sites were said to be launched “at pace” to start delivering the vaccine locally as soon as possible.
More staff at Oliver Road have also shared their sadness over the apparent suddenness of the decision to close, and lingering confusion as to why the centre – which they feel has been a huge success in the community – is closing in the first place.
Elizabeth Roofe, a community matron who came out of retirement to administer flu jabs and Covid-19 vaccines this winter, has been working at Oliver Road since January.
Originally from Enfield and previously working in Tottenham, she says: “When I heard of this little clinic here, I just thought this is such an ideal place to be, compared to some of the bigger centres where we’re sitting behind the screens.
“Here, we have individual rooms, one-way traffic [through the clinic], disabled toilets, lifts up both sides [at the entrance]. What’s not to love about it?”
She says she was informed of the closure just five days prior on Friday, 26th February – and has yet to find out the reason behind it.
“It happened so quick. We knew nothing about it. We were working away happily, patients were happy. Everything was getting done. And the next thing I was told was the clinic is very likely to close next week. I couldn’t believe it, because of the amount of patients we’ve had here.”
Elizabeth also shares concerns about how Leyton and Leytonstone’s most vulnerable will fare in receiving their second jab.
She says: “If we’d already done it, and they’d had their second lot, and then it was decided with the younger population [to move to Walthamstow], yes, that would make sense. But it’s the older and vulnerable [we worry about].
“Myself and [another nurse] have being vaccinating the housebound patients, as well. Where’s that going to be coordinated from? We left every home saying, ‘we will be back’. And no, all of a sudden, we will maybe not be back.”
Another nurse – who asked not to be named – gave an example of the residents they were most concerned about.
“I had a patient last night, and spoke to them about the second dose. He got a text message after I left, on an ordinary phone. He doesn’t have a smartphone.
“He randomly calls me at quarter to seven last night in the middle of my dinner. He said, ‘I’ve got this message’. He didn’t know what to do. He goes, ‘I can’t even click on it’. He couldn’t forward it. So, I asked him to give me the code at the end, and I ended up booking that appointment for him – because I know him really, really well.
“But you know, what are these people [in Leyton] gonna do? They don’t have smartphones. Some don’t speak English. It’s not fair.
“My main concern is the second dose of Pfizer and AstraZeneca, for people from the hesitant population – and they were hesitant. And we’re gonna miss them. I can tell you now, they’re not going to travel towards the library or get in a taxi.”
The unnamed nurse also described feeling guilt over leaving the Leyton community.
“I feel really upset, I feel guilty,” they told the Echo. “Because we targeted this group, they’re relying on us.
“[We have to] make them feel confident in that nurse, or healthcare system, or pharmacist or GP, whoever is administering [the vaccine].”
They added: “Why are they [the CCG] pulling something that’s already working?”
Indeed, it seems there is a personal element to sadness over the decision, as well.
The three Oliver Road staff who spoke to the Echo separately told of the excellent working relationship that had developed between staff and volunteers – describing it as “like a family”.
“It will bring tears to your eyes to think that this place could close…” Elizabeth added. “It’s a hard situation. All day Sunday, I just couldn’t concentrate. I kept thinking, this is like a dream. A nightmare.”
Feedback forms seen by the Echo also show praise from the community for the “fantastic” team.
And local resident Peter Paul, who also raised concerns about the closure, told the paper: “The centre was relatively quickly adapted to provide a rapid respond service for the delivery of the vaccine and is an exemplar in how to deliver care to local people.
“I have several relatives who have attended the centre in order to receive their Covid vaccine. All of them had concerns not just about the vaccine but also the ease of getting to and from the site.
“I reassured them about the ease of accessing the centre by private or public transport or simply by walking. The centre has kerbside access. Each of them confirmed afterwards that their experience getting to and from the centre and receiving the vaccine was quick and easy. Not all of them have had the second shot.”
Eligible Waltham Forest residents are urged take up an offer of the vaccine when contacted to book their appointment.
Anyone aged 65 or over who has not yet been contacted to receive their vaccine is urged to get in touch with their GP as soon as possible. Home visits can be arranged.
And in a statement announcing the closure, Dr Ken Aswani, a local GP and chair of NHS Waltham Forest Clinical Commissioning Group, said:
“Our Covid vaccination campaign continues to expand – thousands of the most vulnerable people in Waltham Forest have already safely had their first dose of the vaccine and the opening of this new site will support the fantastic work our staff teams are doing, with the support of our local partners, to protect our communities.
“We are moving through the priority list at rapid pace and I urge everyone in Waltham Forest who is eligible for the vaccine to come forward as soon as possible. Each jab means more of our loved ones will soon be protected from this awful virus and provides another step forward in returning to normality in the future.”
Clare Coghill, leader of Waltham Forest Council, also added: “Assisting the vaccine roll out in any way we can was one of the commitments we made the Waltham Forest community in November last year.
“Opening our library up as a clinic in partnership with the local CCG means we are able to deliver vaccinations faster in an easily accessible central location where we can safely welcome larger numbers of people.
“Residents have the chance to ask questions and put themselves at ease before they receive their vaccinations – I think that’s hugely important to help reduce some of the hesitancy about getting vaccinated.
“The sooner we can get everyone vaccinated the sooner we can begin to safely reopen our high streets, leisure centres, and entertainment venues.”
Waltham Forest CCG has also taken steps to address hesitancy around the vaccine and create ‘pop-up’ vaccine sites.
Another pop-up clinic, promoted by Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy, helped to vaccinate numerous residents of all ages, who have certain pre-existing conditions.
It is also understood that the NHS is currently looking into pop-up options for Leyton and Leytonstone.
For more information about the Covid-19 vaccine, visit the NHS website.