With the opening of City Hall, there is a sense the speed of vaccinations in Salisbury and south Wiltshire can really step up a gear.
The rollout of the Covid jab in the city started later than in other parts of the country – perhaps a bit later than some would have hoped.
But as concerned residents sat wondering ‘have we been forgotten?’, thousands of NHS workers and volunteers were working round the clock.
They were setting up the sites we have all become accustomed to seeing pictures of: the vaccination hub at Salisbury District Hospital, Wilton’s Michael Herbert Hall, Tidworth Leisure Centre, Salisbury Plain Medical Centre, Salisbury Cathedral, and lastly, City Hall.
Now the mass vaccination site is up and running, a constant flow of patients will come through its doors every day – they are usually in and out in no more than 15 minutes.
The site is busy yet organised and although it is non-stop, to the eyes of a spectator, it can look rather quiet.
Staff say that’s exactly the point.
So how are efforts to protect Salisbury and south Wiltshire’s most vulnerable really going with City Hall now operational?
And will we meet the Government target of February 15 for protecting the area’s most at risk groups?
It’s a tough task – but it’s doable.
A logistical challenge
Procurement, distribution, supply, pharmacy, IT and the process of carrying out vaccinations all needed to be scrutinised and dealt with before any of the vaccine sites could ‘go live’.
“The thing that sits behind giving anybody a vaccine is the logistical challenge in order to ensure that everybody in the category of patients that can be vaccinated gets that opportunity,” said Operational Director of the City Hall site, Fiona Hyett.
“We do know working across the NHS that there are people who have lots of access into the NHS and people who never access anything so being able to pull all that together means that lots of systems need to be giving the vaccinations.”
Salisbury District Hospital’s hub focuses predominantly on healthcare workers, while GP-led sites reach out to patients within their own GP services.
City Hall, the last piece of the jigsaw so far, binds everything together, making the rollout more fast-paced and dynamic.
“Invitation letters come out from the national team, having looked at what’s going on in the local area,” Mrs Hyett explained.
“They then send out letters to people who may not have been picked up [by GPs and the hospital].”
Mrs Hyett added: “In some parts of the country, they may be a little further ahead so they may be going down to the next age range while other areas may not be, and that can be confusing and worrying for patients because they think they’ve been missed out.
“But they haven’t been missed out, it just takes some time.
“Different areas have different numbers and different types of population so it just takes time to get through all the systems.”
‘Close’ to finishing over 80s
Thanks to weeks of preparations, the launch of City Hall on Tuesday, January 26, worked out just how staff expected it to.
The large-scale centre, the first in the county, is currently welcoming people aged 80 or above who have been contacted by the NHS.
When they arrive for their appointment, volunteers from the fire service, co-ordinated by disaster response charity RE:ACT, register their details in the reception area of the former music venue.
Once they make their way to the main hall, they are invited to take a seat until it’s their turn to come forward to give their consent and finally, receive the first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
Military personnel are also on site to take people’s details and give out the jabs, something 83-year-old Ceridwen McKoen said she found very reassuring.
Although the site is operating at half of its capacity, a second pod is being set up so that, when demand increases, staff know how to respond.
It also means that if 450 jabs can be given out in one single day, with the second pod, that figure has the potential to double to around 900.
“Across the Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire CCG we’re hoping to get all over 80s done by the end of January into early February.
“We seem to be really close,” said Mrs Hyett.
Earlier this month, the Government set an ambitious target: giving the first dose of a Covid vaccine to everyone in the top four priority groups by February 15.
The top priority groups in question are care home residents and staff, over 80s, over 75s, over 70s and people who are clinically extremely vulnerable.
Asked whether Salisbury looks likely to hit that target, Mrs Hyett said: “I think so, I’m really positive that we can push people through and we’re doing our best to make sure that the vaccination centre here plays its part in reaching that target.
“It’s a really important target, for the country and for me.”
Their GPs and staff, alongside colleagues from Harcourt Medical Centre, Three Chequers Medical Practice, Whiteparish Surgery and Downton Surgery have been visiting care homes in the evenings.
Vaccination teams have also been going into the homes of people who are housebound, Mrs Hyett said, so those who can’t physically get to a vaccine centre don’t miss out.
City Hall, as all large-scale sites, operates seven days a week, from around 8am to 8pm.
All people currently eligible for a vaccine, and living within a 100-mile radius of the venue, are being written to with details of how to book an appointment.
Due to other sites, such as Bournemouth International Centre, being within that radius, “naturally there is a crossover”.
But the important thing to remember is that people are able to choose whether to have the vaccine at City Hall or wait to be invited to a GP-led vaccination clinic, which could be closer or more convenient to them.
Mrs Hyett said: “It’s about opportunity and if people feel they can’t travel they have an opportunity to wait and see what option comes up and book into a service that suits them the most and suits their needs the most.”
City Hall will remain operational “indefinitely”.
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