Nursing leaders and patient groups have raised concerns about disruption to NHS services in the wake of the Prime Minister’s announcement of new targets for COVID-19 booster jabs

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Nursing leaders and patient groups have raised concerns about disruption to NHS services in the wake of the Prime Minister’s announcement of new targets for COVID-19 booster jabs, warning of huge demands on a health service that is already ‘beyond full stretch’.

In a pre-recorded address on Sunday evening, Boris Johnson launched an urgent national appeal, calling for all adults to get jabbed. He announced a new target to offer all adults a COVID-19 booster jab by the end of December, bringing the rollout forward by 1 month.

‘No one should be in any doubt: there is a tidal wave of Omicron coming’, said Mr Johnson.

‘It is now clear that two doses of vaccine are simply not enough to give the level of protection we all need. But the good news is that our scientists are confident that with a third dose—a booster dose—we can all bring our level of protection back up.’

Speaking at a vaccine centre in Paddington today, Mr Johnson said that the Omicron variant is already ‘producing hospitalisations’ in the UK, and that ‘at least one patient has been confirmed to have died with Omicron’.

The expansion to the booster programme was announced on the same day that the UK Chief Medical Officers increased the UK coronavirus alert level from level 3 to level 4 because of a rapid increase in cases of the Omicron variant.

However, concerns about the likely disruption to the NHS remain, particularly in light of recent performance figures from NHS England that reveal a crisis in emergency care and growing pressure on NHS winter services.

Concern over disruption to the NHS

In response to the Prime Minister’s announcement, the Royal College of Nursing said: ‘Nursing staff have already played a leading role in the delivery of the vaccination programme and they stand ready to continue to do the same again.

‘However, we are concerned about the scale and pace of this expansion, given these same nurses are already facing huge demands under existing unsustainable pressures in every part of the UK health and care system.’

Steven McIntosh, Executive Director of Advocacy and Communications at Macmillan Cancer Support, echoed these concerns: ‘The Government must not fail to ensure NHS cancer services are prioritised and protected this winter, to ensure that nobody faces long waits and disruption in vital cancer care.’

A further 1239 new cases of Omicron were announced in the UK on Sunday 12 December 2021, bringing the total number of known cases to more than 3000, although actual numbers are likely to be much higher.

The UK Health Security Agency has said that current projections could see more than a million infections by the end of the month.

The ramped-up booster programme means that all adults aged over 18 years in England will be eligible to get a booster jab, as long as at least 3 months have passed since their second dose. The NHS booking system will be open to younger age groups from Wednesday 15 December.

The Government will provide additional support to accelerate vaccinations in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

The Prime Minister announced a raft of extra measures to speed up the booster programme, including:

  • military planning teams deployed across the UK to coordinate the national effort and support the NHS with logistics

  • new vaccination centres, including mobile pop-up sites

  • extended opening times, with appointments offered 7 days a week, mornings and evenings

  • a national call for thousands more NHS volunteers.

However, to deliver the accelerated vaccination programme, NHS staff will need to be redeployed away from other services. Nonurgent appointments and elective surgeries will be postponed until after the New Year, adding to the existing backlog in NHS services.

Chief Executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, said: ‘The NHS is already under enormous pressure, and scaling up in this way will be a huge challenge.

‘The NHS will, once again, do everything it can to deliver this hugely ambitious extension to the booster vaccination programme. However, the NHS is already beyond full stretch so, as the Prime Minister acknowledged, we will need to reprioritise.

‘As more hospital staff become involved in the vaccination campaign, this is likely to impact on planned care, causing some additional delays. Patients will be prioritised according to clinical need, but trust leaders are only too aware of the impact of these difficult decisions.’

This article originally appeared on Medscape, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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