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Community vaccinations ‘could run into problems’, warn GPs

Chair of the IMO GP committee Dr Denis McCauley has warned that rollout of Covid-19 vaccinations in the community “could run into problems” unless communication and delivery issues that arose this week are not addressed.

As the vaccination of the over-70s in the community continues, several GPs have reported a myriad of difficulties associated with their HSE vaccine orders.

Problems encountered include receiving too many vaccine doses, not enough vaccine doses, and being left without the syringes required to deliver vaccinations. 

This week some practices were still waiting on deliveries, while others had been given notice of deliveries with under 48 hours to prepare clinics, representing huge challenges for GPs. 

There are around 23 practices which have more than 200 patients over-70 where issues remain to be resolved.

In addition, 65 GP practices with small numbers of patients aged over-70 have been unable to make ‘buddy up’ arrangements or avail of the GP led clinics, mainly due to geographical location.

The IMO has informed members that a solution has been found and these practices will receive deliveries next week.

Dr McCauley, a Donegal-based GP, said that it was “extraordinary” that by the end of this week about 70,000 of the 72,000 over-85s in Ireland will have been vaccinated within a three week period.

But he warned that if communication problems were not tackled soon, particularly as GPs begin to vaccinate greater patient numbers in the coming weeks, rollout could become chaotic.

“I am positive about vaccination in this cohort, I’m just worried about communication issues. If it is not improved, we could run into problems. Ultimately, it will be to the detriment of this very vulnerable group and I don’t want to have them disappointed.” 

Over 800 practices have received vaccine deliveries to date and 500 more practices were due to receive deliveries this week. But it is now likely that some practices will receive deliveries next week, instead of this week. 

The IMO is in constant contact with the HSE and has voiced its concerns around communication difficulties being experienced by GPs. 

The HSE has a specific telephone number for GPs to call when they encounter vaccine order and delivery difficulties. 

But GPs have reported being unable to reach anyone via this number to respond to their concerns in a timely manner. 

In an email communication to GP members on Thursday night, the IMO acknowledged problems with communications and receiving definitive responses to queries on orders and deliveries.

“Subject to availability of vaccine, from your second delivery onwards, you should now receive the amount ordered, and confirmed through GP vaccine, on the expected date.”

Dr McCauley said 48 hours’ notice of vaccine deliveries to practices “is acceptable”. Less than 48 hours’ notice is not adequate for GPs trying to arrange vaccination clinics, he outlined.

Furthermore, he warned that notice periods given to GPs for vaccine deliveries would have to extend further, by up to at least a week, in the coming weeks as GPs begin to vaccinate greater numbers of the over-70s. Around 428,000 over-70s have yet to be vaccinated. 

He said GPs need to know that confirmation of their orders has been received by the HSE and when they will receive vaccines. 

“GPs want to know they [HSE] have received my order, that they have accepted it and when they will deliver it. That’s all.”

According to HSE data on vaccine administration, up to 1 March, almost 55,000 over-70s had been vaccinated in the community. 

Dr McCauley said a plan is being put in place to vaccinate those aged over -85 who are house bound, through the HSE National Ambulance Service. This group is to be vaccinated in the coming week.  

Specific plans to vaccinate patients of small practices who have yet to ‘buddy up’ with a larger practice are also being devised, he said.

A HSE spokesperson said: “The HSE is aware that a small number of GP practices have experienced operational issues regarding ordering and delivery schedules; however we have endeavoured to respond to them quickly and to resolve issues as they arise. We apologise for any undue pressure or inconvenience this has caused GPs and their patients.

“A central GP order support team is assisting the GP community in placing their orders and understanding the delivery arrangements, in order to ensure the smooth rollout of the vaccine.”

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