Unison said: ‘When it’s the turn of younger people, 24/7 clinics may well be appropriate’
Launching a 24-hour vaccination programme may not be the best use of healthcare staff who are currently already overburdened during the coronavirus pandemic, the UK’s largest healthcare union has said.
Unison, which represents NHS staff members including nurses, said round-the-clock vaccinating would be better suited to when the schedule is focused on younger members of the population, rather than the current priority groups, which are made up of older and vulnerable people.
On Monday, Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccine deployment minister, said 24-hour vaccinations will be piloted in London hospitals by the end of January, before plans are made to expand them elsewhere.
The profile of people who can currently receive a Covid-19 vaccine are older care home residents and their carers, frontline health and social care workers, people aged 70 and over, and individuals who are clinically extremely vulnerable.
Currently, vaccination centres are open from 8am to 8pm. Mr Zahawi told Sky News this “works much more conveniently for those who are over 80 and then as you move down the age groups it becomes much more convenient for people to go late at night and in the early hours”.
His comments were echoed by Sara Gorton, head of health at Unison, who told i: “When it’s the turn of younger people, 24/7 clinics may well be appropriate. But for now, appointments in the early hours aren’t suitable for very many vulnerable elderly and wouldn’t make the best use of already overstretched staff.”
She added: “Ensuring everyone in the most vulnerable groups and all health and care staff receive the vaccine as quickly, efficiently and smoothly as possible is vital if lives are to be saved and the NHS spared.
“Easy to understand information, setting out exactly what’s happening and why is key to encouraging maximum take up.”
Labour has been among those calling for 24/7 vaccinations. But last week, there were suggestions that the public preferred to receive their jab during the day.
Boris Johnson’s press secretary, Allegra Stratton, said there was no “clamour” for appointments “late into the night or early in the morning”.
The national medical director for the NHS in England, Professor Stephen Powis, told a Downing Street press conference: “I’m sure for the vast majority of people, they would prefer to have their vaccine during the day.
“And the best use of our staff and volunteers… working through the day is the most efficient way of delivering the most vaccine.”
The Prime Minister later said that a round-the-clock vaccine model was going ahead, telling MPs: “We will be going to 24/7 as soon as we can.”
It is hoped that this cohort – which makes up the top four priority groups set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation – will be vaccinated by mid February, before the NHS moves on to people aged under 70.
A recent poll by YouGov found that 43 per cent of Britons would be willing to have their vaccine between midnight and 5:59am while 32 per cent said they would turn down an appointment offered between these hours.
The Government is aiming to have all adults in the UK vaccinated by the autumn.
So far more than four million people have received the first dose of a vaccine, including more than half of over-80s and half of elderly care home residents.