Aged 67 and retired from a career as a person-centred therapist, Elaine Patterson struggles to stand for more than a couple of minutes due to her rheumatoid arthritis. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic the Worsley resident was mostly confined to her home.
As the national Covid-19 vaccination programme began to roll out, first to over 80s and then to over 70s and the clinically extremely vulnerable, Elaine was left wondering when and how – given her very limited mobility – she might receive her own vaccination.
This week that problem was solved thanks to the patient-focussed approach of Salford’s Swinton PCN (Primary Care Network), a group of GP surgeries that have mobilised to make sure their housebound patients get the life-saving jabs.
Elaine received her vaccination from GP Dr Girish Patel from The Sides Medical Practice in her home on Wednesday February 3. Scenarios like this are now being played out across Salford and the boroughs of Greater Manchester, with thousands of housebound people now getting their vaccine.
In Swinton PCN’s system GP practices work together to identify suitable patients, who are then contacted by phone 24-48 hours prior to the intended home visit to see if they want the vaccine and if they are well enough to have it.
On the day, those members of staff delivering the home visits go to a central point to collect their vaccine supply/kit.
Home visits are always made in pairs, and the person who actually gives the vaccine has to be a registered healthcare professional, with the second person usually a member of practice staff.
With many GP surgery staff working at vaccination centres, along with business-as-usual work, Swinton PCN staff have worked additional hours and at weekends to get the vaccines out to the housebound.
Dr Patel said: “When the vaccination programme first began it was with the Pfizer vaccination which needs to be stored at very cold temperatures. That made it impossible to get out and deliver it in private homes.
“The availability of the Astra Zeneca/Oxford vaccine, which can be kept and moved in cool boxes, was a game changer for us. We could then look at how we could get round to the patients who couldn’t easily get to a vaccination centre.
“We said ‘let’s just try to get them done’. As soon as we had suitable vaccines available to us we got out and began to deliver them. It was important for us to do it as these people are frail and elderly, they are at risk. I’m glad we have been able to hand some freedom back to them.”
Elaine said: “I was elated when the surgery rang and said that I could have the vaccination. Even though I have family around me in a bubble, and I do voluntary work as a telephone counsellor it has been a really lonely and isolating time.
“I was really pleased that it was Dr Patel himself who came with his nurse Anne and Sarah who looks after the admin. I’ve been with the surgery for 40 years and know them well.
“In all I wouldn’t say having the vaccine was a pleasant experience! But it wasn’t daunting at all. I’m just grateful we live in a society where you can be vaccinated like this and not receive a bill at the end of it!
“I would encourage anyone offered their vaccine to get it.”
Christine Khiroya, Greater Manchester nurse consultant with lead responsibility for screening and immunisation, said: “People who are housebound are often unwell and may rely on a stream of health and care professionals, paid/unpaid carers, friends and family members to visit them regularly to bring them medication, supplies and meet their wellbeing needs.
“This means that potentially a number of different people are entering their homes on a daily basis and potentially bringing the virus in with them. Given these patients are incredibly vulnerable, we need to vaccinate them as soon as possible to ensure that if they do inadvertently come into contact with someone who is Covid-19 positive, they are protected against becoming severely unwell.
“It is a source of huge pride that alongside delivering vaccines from our 78 centres across Greater Manchester, our colleagues are also going the extra mile to get out to the people that need this vaccine the most.”
Dr Van Selvaraasan, clinical lead for the Salford NHS Vaccination Service, said: “The last few months have been an extremely worrying time for many of us, but especially for those who are housebound and their families who they may not have been able to see for a very long time. It is such a big step that we are now able to start offering the Covid-19 vaccine to some of the most vulnerable people in our community. If you, or a loved one, are housebound please don’t worry. We will contact you and you will be offered the vaccine. No-one is going to be left behind.”