Nursing leaders have expressed fears about the “scale and pace” of the booster programme, given that the NHS is “already beyond full stretch”.
To meet the target of giving every adult in England a third COVID-19 jab by the end of December, the prime minister said the NHS will have to postpone some appointments into the new year – but health leaders are warning that this may not be enough.
The NHS said this will affect “routine” visits, with GPs asked to “clinically prioritise their services to free up maximal capacity” to support the vaccination programme while delivering critical appointments such as cancer, urgent and emergency care.
Steven McIntosh, executive director of advocacy and communications at Macmillan Cancer Support, said 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”.
Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, said the health service will do everything it can to deliver the “hugely ambitious” booster campaign, but is “already beyond full stretch” and will “need to reprioritise”.
He said as more hospital staff become involved, it is “likely to impact on planned care, causing some additional delays”.
Pat Cullen, general secretary and chief executive at the Royal College of Nursing, said: “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.”
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting told Sky News the government needs to make sure the health service has the resources it needs to deliver the programme.
“I understand people will be worried, especially if their appointments are rearranged into January,” he said.
“I think what we’ve got to bear in mind that if we don’t get Britain boosted, and if this virus spreads even more rapidly than it already is, the NHS will be hit with disruption anyway, because of increased hospitalisations and pressure on the NHS in the busiest months of the year, so the campaign to get Britain boosted will also help to bring down those record high waiting lists.”
He added that the NHS needs to be given time to “mobilise”.
“They’re not going to be doing a million jabs overnight,” he said.