Exclusive: GP surgeries offered £1,000 to cancel second dose Covid jab appointments in rollout chaos
GPs are being paid £1,000 to cancel second dose appointments for Covid jabs and given a script to follow to deal with angry patients amid growing chaos in the rollout of the vaccine programme.
Practices have been offered the payments to cover the workload of postponing hundreds of patients who were set to have their second dose and booking new ones in their place.
The Department of Health and Social Care said updated guidance had been issued on December 17, made available in a pack called "Information for UK Healthcare Professionals". However, it is understood that some healthcare staff were unaware of the changes.
NHS sources said the shift has contributed to delays in rolling out the programme. Some GPs have refused to postpone the appointments, with practice managers saying it was "too cruel" to dash the hopes of those who were booked for a second jab.
Ministers have promised to offer almost 15 million people jabs by the middle of February, with hundreds of doses a day administered by the end of next week.
Vaccination rates scenarios
In December, everyone given a first vaccine by Pfizer was told to come back for their second dose three weeks later. But the strategy was changed 10 days ago in a bid to get a first dose to more of the population more quickly.
Patients are now being told they will have to wait 12 weeks for the second dose, with a reassurance from health officials that the longer gap could strengthen its effectiveness.
By the time the plan was changed, around one million people had already been booked in for their second dose. GPs are now under orders to postpone such appointments and instead give the slots to those awaiting a first dose.
A letter from senior NHS officials, seen by The Telegraph, reveals that centres that are running the scheme have been offered £1,000 towards the costs of cancelling and rebooking patients.
The letter from Dr Nikita Kanani, the medical director for primary care, and Ed Waller, the director of primary care, dated December 31, says the changes in the strategy mean "the system will now be delaying second doses and cancelling large numbers of appointments next week onwards".
While the moves are critical to protect health for more patients, they have "significant administrative implications", it says. It directs GPs to a script "produced to support these challenging conversations" and promises financial support for those following the instructions.
"We have announced a payment of £1,000 that can be made to all PCN [Primary Care Network] sites that will need to undertake this process. The payment will be made by NHS England and NHS Improvement following CCG confirmation of which sites are undertaking the rebooking process," it says.
Many GPs have refused to carry out the orders, with Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, saying this week that they have "discretion" to honour existing appointments. On Friday, Boris Johnson’s father, Stanley, said he was about to have his second dose of the Pfizer jab.
One NHS source said the changes had contributed to delays in GPs receiving deliveries of vaccine. The source said shipments originally planned for second doses have been diverted to other practices, sometimes with little or no warning.
Jo Wade, the director of the Institute for General Practice Management, which represents GP practice managers, said many surgeries had decided not to cancel appointments for second doses rather than be "cruel" to patients.
"GP surgeries are under unbelievable pressure, so to be asked to phone 975 elderly people to cancel their appointments was unfair on us, and really cruel to them," she said. "It’s led to people phoning up the surgeries in quite a nasty way wanting to know when they’re having the vaccine, even though it’s not under our control."
On Friday night, health officials announced that all NHS staff and social care workers will be offered jabs over the next five weeks as hospitals come under increasing pressure. Until now, the Government had said only "front line" staff would be included in the early priority groups.
The change means clerical staff and managers working for the health service will be able to receive jabs months before they are offered to most people under the age of 70, including key workers such as teachers and police.
Ruth May, the NHS chief nursing officer said: "As we move to the next phase of the rollout, it is only right that we prioritise the NHS staff who have been on the frontline of this global pandemic. We will be prioritising the nurses, doctors and other frontline staff who continue to work tirelessly, before administering the vaccine to almost all health and social care staff by mid-February."