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Shining a light on local communities helping to roll out the vaccine

Managing the COVID-19 vaccination programme is an enormous challenge across the NHS – but not everyone has had to rope in their local mountain rescue team.

The South Hambleton and Ryedale Primary Care Network cares for patients in some of North Yorkshire’s most rural areas, representing GP practices in and around the North York Moors including Pickering, Tollerton, Helmsley, Kirbymoorside, Stillington, Terrington and Easingwold.

I thought it would be timely to shine a spotlight on how local communities have rallied round to overcome the area’s acute challenges and help protect some of North Yorkshire’s most vulnerable and isolated residents from the virus.

Our local volunteer networks have brought “energy and community spirit in abundance” – from hand delivering letters inviting eligible patients to come and get their vaccine at short notice, to standing in -5C temperatures for up to 11 hours, helping people park their cars and find their way to their appointments at the vaccination centre in Pickering.  

They have been hugely supportive of our clinical team and brought kindness and positivity in the process, this is a community effort through and through. Delivery of the programme relies on the strong leadership of our lead nurse Kirstie Vincer and her practice colleagues, collaborating with local businesses, volunteers and council teams to make this work.

Local businesses that have contributed to the programme can display signs in their windows celebrating the support they have given; this not only promotes vaccination within the town, but adds to the sense of community spirit and effort in tackling the pandemic.

Making sure one of the most elderly, rural populations in England has been able to access the vaccine is a huge challenge – even without the worst effects of winter thrown into the mix.

Snow and ice was expected prior to our housebound vaccination roll-out so our lead nurse manager liaised with Scarborough and Ryedale Mountain Rescue in the days leading up to our vaccine delivery.

Their team were fantastic, being on standby for our clinical team to get to outlying areas of our 200-square-mile patch and helping us deliver vaccines safely in very wintry conditions. We were hugely grateful for their expertise and moral support.

A special mention to NRS Healthcare, who who delivered a lorryload of wheelchairs to use on vaccination days, many of the patients we were inviting to the very first vaccination sessions were extremely frail and hadn’t left the house for many months. We were worried that many of them would find getting from the car park into a vaccinator clinic and out again physically very difficult.

We spoke with NRS who offered us the use of wheelchairs that we used to support people who needed that extra help in mobility. Carers and patients were so grateful. People were hugely relieved to have some extra physical support on their first outing.

Local hospitality businesses have also pitched in to keep spirits high, delivering vaccination teams everything from hot mugs of soup, festive pasties and bacon rolls to cakes and hot coffees. One local pub regularly lent their marquee until we were able to get our own, but continue to help set up and take it down each vaccination day. This has meant we can station the wheelchairs closer to where they are needed as well as providing shelter and a focal point for the volunteers.

Even the local brewery in Cropton dropped off cans of beer for our volunteer team to take home after a long day in the cold! 

Such support has helped local NHS staff focus on getting the job done for their communities, with planning key to the success of the programme.

We have been really successful in getting vaccines out early, with very smooth flow through vaccine clinics allowing for COVID-secure environments. Our Primary Care Network staff have united behind the clear sense of purpose we have in vaccine delivery.

Collaborating together, our practice teams have come closer and shared responsibility for getting this right. We have really enjoyed being part of this momentous challenge.”

Making vaccinations available to the top four priority groups by mid-February meant a big push in South Hambleton and Ryedale, and now the focus is on moving through the age groups and ensuring everyone in the area is offered a COVID-19 vaccine by the NHS in due course.

Working with local communities will remain hugely important, we will be continuing to strengthen our work with community groups to deliver the vaccines as we know their support really helps reassure our community that vaccines are safe and that the process of getting vaccinated is straightforward.

We continue to keep an eye on the weather and have developed close links with Ryedale District Council to ensure adequate gritting on vaccination days as well as liaising regarding traffic flow and car parking. It really has, and continues to be, a true community effort’

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Dr Helena Ebbs

Helena has been a GP partner at Pickering Medical Practice since 2012. After graduating from Sheffield Medical School in 2003 she spent her first few years working in South Yorkshire in hospital medicine, before moving to North Yorkshire to train as a GP. She has an interest in mental health, frailty and rural general practice.

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