The NHS could run 24/7 vaccine clinics and discharge patients to hotels under plans as it prepares to ramp up the COVID-19 booster scheme ahead of next year.
The health service has been placed on the highest level of emergency preparedness – level four – as it aims to tackle the “new and significant” threat posed by the Omicron coronavirus variant.
A new letter from health bosses states that the NHS will deliver “more vaccines over the coming weeks than ever before” which might include 24/7 vaccine clinics “where relevant for the local community”.
Vaccine sites should operate 12 hours a day “as standard” seven days a week, while some GP appointments will need to be postponed as the NHS prioritises the vaccination programme.
Under the plans:
- The NHS has ordered hospitals to free up as many beds as possible, which could include discharging fit patients to hotels to wait for social care support to be put in place
- Leaders have been ordered to make “full use of non-acute beds in the local health and care system” including the use of beds in hospices and private hospitals
- Hospital bosses have been asked to “surge test”, including testing oxygen supplies, and “learn the lessons” from previous waves of COVID-19
- Trusts have been ordered to maintain mental health, learning disability and autism services
- Services should be maintained “as much as possible”, but some staff may need to be redeployed to support vaccination efforts
- Plans to employ more staff should be accelerated – including asking international nurses to come to work in the UK sooner where possible
Pop-up sites could include trucks and buses, cathedrals, football stadiums and leisure centres.
Temporary buildings – such as portacabins and tents – are “ready to be dispatched”, the letter added.
But it warned: “Even with the additional protection that vaccine boosters will give, the threat from Omicron remains serious.”
The number of people requiring care could be “significant over the coming period”, the letter said, as it set out steps for the NHS to prepare for a fresh wave of cases.
Long queues formed at vaccination centres around the UK on Monday, while the NHS booking site has repeatedly crashed as people scrambled to get jabbed ahead of Christmas.
The letter, penned by NHS England’s chief executive Amanda Pritchard and national medical director Professor Stephen Powis, concluded: “The Omicron variant presents a new and significant threat, and the NHS must once again rise to the national mission to protect as many people as possible through the vaccination programme whilst also now taking steps to prepare for and respond to this threat.”
On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said more than half a million people booked their booster jab, which he called “an incredible feat”.
“We’re doing everything we can to deliver millions more boosters in the coming weeks,” he added.
More than half a million people booked their booster jab today – an incredible feat.
We’re doing everything we can to deliver millions more boosters in the coming weeks.
Thank you to everyone who has answered the call – please tell your friends and family to Get Boosted Now.
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) December 13, 2021
“Thank you to everyone who has answered the call – please tell your friends and family to Get Boosted Now.”
The total number of cases of the variant now stands at 4,713 in the UK – however, modelling suggests Omicron is currently infecting 200,000 people a day across the UK, and makes up more than 20% of coronavirus cases in England.