Windrush Vaccine Clinics

Dr Stephen Smith preparing the vaccine jab.

Windrush dispensary manager Sarah Townsend and Dr Fiona Peach carefully preparing the 600 Pfizer vaccine doses for that day’s clinic, held from 14:00-19:00 (on Tues Feb 9).

Happy vaccine recipients – Shirley Radbone and David Yates.

This story was published in the Witney Gazette on February 17th 2021

By Denise Barkley

Freelance writer and member of the Windrush Patient Participation Group

In a massive combined feat of organisation and effort, staff and volunteers are pulling together to roll out the Covid-19 vaccinations as quickly as possible at the Windrush Medical Practice in Witney – and it’s going smoothly and efficiently, with more than 7,000 people now having received their jabs since December 21.

Last week (from Mon, Feb 8), the clinicians began vaccinating the over-65s age group. The Windrush is the vaccine hub for Pfizer inoculations for the five surgeries in the Eynsham and Witney Primary Care Network (PCN) – the Windrush, the Nuffield and Cogges health centres in Witney – and the Eynsham and Long Hanborough medical practices.

“We are all very tired, but morale is good,” revealed Dr Stephen Smith, senior partner at the Windrush – Witney’s largest medical practice with 19,000 patients – and clinical vaccine lead for Eynsham and Witney PCN.

“The doctors and staff all passionately believe this is what’s best for the community. The more vaccine we get, the quicker we can get people immunised,” he emphasised.

“Our staff are all working long hours and going above and beyond to make sure we get the vaccine out there. They are in at weekends making the calls to invite people to come for their jabs – most of us are working six or seven days-a-week, and often 12-hour days.

“But we aren’t halfway through out lists yet – there’s some battle fatigue, but we will keep on going!”

This was endorsed by Hattie Clay, practice manager at the Windrush, who said: “We get notification on the Tuesday or Wednesday each week of what vaccine we will receive the following week.

“One week we were told that we would get two loads of vaccine – we had our heads in our hands thinking how are we going to do this? But the staff are fantastic and they say, great! – let’s get on with it! They are so keen and involved.”

The Pfizer vaccine presents particular challenges in that it has a lifespan of either three, four or five days, whereas the Oxford University AstraZeneca jab lasts six months. There are also the logistical demands of guiding as many as 1,100 patients through the Windrush practice and vaccinating them during a full day’s clinic at the Windrush, particularly as, with Pfizer, the recipients must wait 15 minutes after their jab to ensure they have no immediate adverse reaction.

“We don’t know the lifespan or amount of the vaccine we’ll receive in advance, but with less than a week’s notice we need to invite around a thousand patients per day to attend for their jabs to ensure we use all the doses – we don’t want to waste a single dose,” Dr Smith explained.

As the first vaccines were rolled out at the beginning of January for the older age groups, attendance was 100 per cent, but recently there have been some ‘no shows’. This, said Dr Smith, could be influenced by some patients taking up invitations to have their jabs at Oxford’s Kassam Stadium vaccine hub.

“Where patients receive invitations from both us and for the Kassam, this can cause confusion – if they go there, they might forget to cancel the appointment they have here and then we are left with unused vaccine doses, meaning our staff are on the phones before clinic finishes at 8pm asking people to come in immediately, so they don’t get wasted,” he said.

“There’s also been instances of patients over 80, who have already been immunised here, receiving a further invitation for the Kassam. They then think it’s for their follow-up jab, which results in our staff fielding even more enquiries.

“We are keen for all our patients to have their vaccines here at the Windrush, especially as you must have your second booster vaccine administered at the same place as your first.”

The logistics of running the vaccine clinics have improved as the age profile of recipients drops. For many of those aged 80 and over their vaccination visit was the first time they had left their home in nearly a year. Which is where the Eynsham and Witney PCN’s 80-strong band of volunteer marshals proves invaluable.

Mrs Clay explained: “Our volunteers go round chatting with patients and making sure they are okay.

“There are ten volunteer marshals at each session to help organise the queue and the clinic – and they are just fantastic and so committed, turning out in awful freezing weather and staying late.

“They provide extra pairs of eyes for us, observing, keeping the queue flowing and dealing with queries.”

The Windrush’s patient services manager, Tracey Walker, was equally impressed.

“The volunteers are marvellous and such a help as the staff are running the vaccine clinics and doing their normal jobs as well. It’s hectic!”

A band of trained voluntary vaccinators recently joined the clinicians to administer the jabs, a welcome back-up for the doctors who must continue to run their normal surgeries too. There are 12 vaccinators on duty at each clinic, with doctors, pharmacists and medical staff from all the practices within Eynsham and Witney PCN playing a part.

Fiona Peach, a GP at Cogges surgery, said it was impressive how well the vaccine clinics are run.

“It can get a bit stressy at times, but we just keep going,” she smiled.

Volunteer marshal Douglas Cantley, 33, who is currently furloughed from his sales job, has enjoyed his shifts at the Windrush vaccine clinics.

“I like helping and chatting to everyone,” he said. “Lots of people haven’t been outside their homes for nine months or more, but they are really upbeat. You get the odd awkward person, of course, but not often.”

Shirley Radbone, 67, from Witney, who had received her vaccination along with her partner David Yates, enthused: “It’s been a very good experience. This is an excellent practice and everyone’s so helpful. We were only in the queue for a few minutes – it’s really well organised.”

Also on duty at the same clinic was the Windrush’s facilities manager, Shirley Watts, who was busy directing patients to each of the 12 consulting rooms for their jabs.
She said: “The Windrush doctors and staff are such a wonderful family unit – I’ve been here ten years and it’s a great place to work. Everyone puts in one hundred per cent effort and we’d all work 24/7 to ensure everyone gets their Covid vaccination.”
Dr Smith added: “It’s a privilege to be involved in the roll-out of the Covid vaccine. It’s historic, and something we will all tell our kids about in years to come.”