Gateshead has reached the key milestone of offering the Covid-19 vaccine to all health and social care workers in the borough, and has vaccinated more than 9,000 workers, including over 4,000 hospital employees.
The drive to protect health and social care staff with their first dose has moved at a rapid pace thanks to five GP-led centres and a vaccine hub at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
Andy Beeby, medical director at Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The dedication and drive to get the vaccine to thousands of people has been nothing short of heroic. Given the pressures the NHS is facing, it’s fantastic that we have achieved so much, so quickly and helped protect so many of Gateshead’s vital health and care staff.”
The programme involves staff from across the hospital’s teams, alongside practice staff, volunteers and local partners including Gateshead Council and Community Based Care, and the Gateshead GPs’ federation.
Many NHS staff members have taken on vaccine work alongside their normal jobs like pharmacy, nursing or doctors, while others have returned from retirement to help out.
Anaesthetist Fiaz Ahmad volunteered to give the vaccine to colleagues at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. He said: “Most years I’d be getting on a plane, this year I volunteered to vaccinate NHS and care home staff. It’s been emotional, vaccinating friends and colleagues I’ve worked with on the frontline of the fight against the pandemic.”
The vaccine effort has also reached frontline social care staff, pharmacists, dentists, podiatrists and opticians – and anyone working in health and social care in Gateshead who feels they have been missed is advised to discuss this with their employer.
Jennifer Owen, Local Dental Committee Chair for Gateshead and South of Tyne, said: “Dentistry is been seen as one of the higher risk areas but staff are feeling a lot less vulnerable now. It’s been so well organised – I’ve had nothing but positive feedback from colleagues in Gateshead who are so pleased with how quickly they got the vaccine.
“Reaching 400 staff in almost 50 local practices is a real challenge but the process was really slick, with flexible booking arrangements, as we can’t easily close our practices during the day. We’re still taking precautions but it’s a big sigh of relief – we just want to keep staff and patients safe.”
The vaccine effort has now reached over 40,000 people in Gateshead, including older people in care homes, over-80s and most people in their seventies. Work is also well underway to reach housebound people and residents in other types of care homes.
Dr Mark Dornan, a Gateshead GP and assistant clinical chair at NHS Newcastle Gateshead Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said: “Everyone in the health and care system has really pulled together, working to beat Covid over the last year and doing an incredible job now with the vaccine. NHS staff, partners and volunteers have worked long hours and made great personal sacrifices, and we owe every one of them our thanks.”
Judith Reid is another volunteer vaccinator, on top of her normal job as a paediatrician at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. She said: “I have personal experience of family members being in intensive care during this crisis. Volunteering was an automatic decision – yes it’s on top of my day job, but the benefits are huge. It’s a super-efficient programme involving nurses, doctors, pharmacists, administrators and managers and I am privileged to be part of it. I have vaccinated colleagues from all over the social, health, care and community workforce.”
The GP-led vaccine centres, which work alongside the vaccine hub at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, are based at Blaydon, Birtley, Felling, the Bede Centre and Rawling Road practice.