The Etchingham Plan

Community buses willing to help - at no charge - but is the task too big ?

Against a background of continual reports of progress with the roll out of the Covid-19 vaccine programme in Sussex, up until Tuesday one area that was noticeably missing was Rye and District, now grouped in what is described as “rural Rother District”.

By the start of this week, Rye’s mayor Councillor Rebekah Gilbert and others, like REACT (Rye’s Emergency Team), have been questioning the authorities, including the MP, Sally-Ann Hart, to see what was being planned.

What became clear was that “rural Rother” had not been forgotten, but the vaccination plan would be somewhat contentious.

In the absence of any real news from local surgeries and pharmacists – “instructions were awaited” – during last weekend there were indications that a plot was being hatched by the West Sussex body, Sussex Community Foundation Trust (SCFT), to deliver vaccine to “rural Rother” via a hub in Etchingham Village Hall.

“Did appear quite bizarre”

We have become used to hearing about some controversial decisions during the pandemic, but for anyone in Rye and District, this did appear to be quite bizarre. After all, Rye has been a market and service centre for a wide area of Eastern Rother since medieval times. Traditionally, residents go to Hastings for specialist NHS treatment and some have already been there for vaccination because of their priority.

Any plan to move the Rye and District population over twice the distance suggested by the prime minister would seem to be challenging even with a complex transport plan, but at this stage such a (Covid safe) plan is not apparent.

Many of the factors which affected the decision to locate at Etchingham are only just emerging. A glance at a small map might indicate some suitability as a “centre”. Etchingham Hall is relatively new, has some car parking, and looks close to the Hastings to London railway line. In reality, for pedestrians, it is similar to a walk uphill from Rye centre to the Rye Medical Centre.

The CCG has relaxed rules on giving car lifts. People can give lifts to one other person, not from their bubble, but separation in the vehicle and masks are required. And after each journey a thorough wipe down with an alcohol based wipe or liquid or spray is necessary.

The Etchingham plan is based on the delivery of the Pfizer vaccine, using a “roving model”, with specialist storage and allowing the time to administer to patients. This is the reason why specialist hubs are being established around the country for the first priorities as care homes.

“Oxford” vaccine might mean local “jabs”

However, as the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine becomes more available in the coming weeks, it is hoped that some vaccination can move to GP and pharmacy locations. By then the government target that everyone will be within 10 miles of a vaccine site across England would become more realistic.

Another reason for Etchingham is that in order to become a vaccination location, local GP surgeries were asked to sign up to provide an “Enhanced Service” and to do so they had to meet the NHS specialist requirements. Local GPs could not sign as they could not meet the rules. It is understood that local GP staff will now support the Etchingham hub.

Although this is a challenging NHS programme, there are many questions for which answers are needed.

Questions needing answers

How do people without access to transport get safely to Etchingham (At very least a two hour round trip)? [Editor’s note: and even with a car, some residents have already pointed out that it is at least a 44 mile round trip, or 40 minutes each way]

What arrangements are being put in place for transport? NHS Providers have been suggested, but they are likely to be one volunteer driver and vehicle for one person.

Have the vulnerable groups been considered – those shielding; those less abled; those extremely vulnerable.

What about all those sheltering in mobile homes and lodges in the area, who may be registered in other parts of the England? For these, when will a more distributed model be introduced?

In the coming weeks we hope to hear more details of the “Etchingham plan”. The government emphasis is that everybody should be vaccinated, but it is said that if you want to get people to do challenging things then it is better to make it easy for them.

A cause for concern

For some in “rural Rother” it looks to be less than straightforward and, for many, a cause for some concern. We hope that communication will now be improved so that everyone knows what is going on.

An extract from a statement by Sally-Ann Hart MP on Tuesday January 12 is below:

“Rolling out the vaccine is a challenge which will be met. It is the biggest logistical effort ever undertaken in the NHS’ history and there are bound to be bumps in the road and issues with the rollout as we find our feet.

“The Government is still on target to offer a vaccine to every resident in the top four priority groups which is everyone over 70, the clinically most vulnerable and all frontline health and social care workers, by February 15.

“Please do not contact your GP about an appointment for a vaccine. As soon as slots become available you will be contacted via letter or text from your GP practice or the national NHS. I understand that it is frustrating that the vaccine is taking time to be delivered, but everything that can be done in this huge mobilisation is being done.

“I will endeavour to keep local residents informed of the progress being made, but in the meantime we all need to follow the rules, which right now means staying at home unless it is essential for you not to.”

Image Credits: Sussex Community Foundation .


  1. Why when we are in East Sussex was this set up by West Sussex as reported above who probably have no idea of the Rother area and the complex logistics involved in getting people to the hub, especially as these are the most vulnerable and elderly who are being called first. Could people from Eastern Rother not access the hub which is supposed to be opening at Lydd airport or is that a border too far?

  2. Colonel Kimber highlights how the MP has been working hard behind the scenes to deliver a plan which sees her elderly and vulnerable Rye constituents having to travel a quite absurd 19 miles to Etchingham rather than the 10 miles to Hastings. In rugby this would be described as a hospital pass.
    And, ironically, her plan to send her constituents from Rye to Etchingham by-passes the Conquest Hospital.

  3. Given that at considerable expense there is a newly commissioned community hub on the site of the Rye Memorial Hospital and Rye Medical Centre with adequate space and facilties for parking and community bus services why has this not been considered. it seems ludicrous to expect the elderly and infirm to travel the distance involved in visiting some remote location miles away.

  4. Also the Etchingham Plan ignores completely the recent very successful experience of many local GP surgeries who successfully coped with the greatly increased take-up of flu jabs by using their own village hall very effectively.

  5. Why are we always “forgotten” in this part of the country? I know several people from Kent, Wiltshire and other areas who have all been offered the vaccine but absolutely no-one in the village where I live despite many of them being well over 80.

    Now, at last, we hear that we all have to go to Etchingham, miles away. Not everyone has access to transport or can afford taxis so this will be a real problem for the sick and disabled.

    Why on earth don’t we use the Rye Hub? After all, we all helped pay for it and because of Covid it’s hardly been used.

  6. I agree with all the published comments, so far. The the distance and the journey is ludicrous. It is unlikely that my wife will be called at the same time as I, so this will mean 4 round trips to complete the treatment for both of us. I am over 80 and have not received any offer so far, nor has my wife ( also in the priority group) at 10.00 on 15.01.21. We may become yet become just another statistic of this shambles. Morris M

  7. I commented earlier this week on another article about this, but have seen so many different statements by different bodies that my conclusion has to be that efficient communication is necessary, but sadly lacking in this case. I’m certain that everyone is working hard on this massive task but it doesn’t seem to be coordinated properly. In Meopham , North Kent, the local GP practice is shortly starting on Phase 3 patients. This is a village surgery a little larger than Rye Medical Centre, with an older building. Unlike East Sussex, West Sussex seems to have lots of smaller centres up and running. Maybe there has been a breakdown here in negotiations between the authorities and GPs? There are plenty of able-bodied people in Rye and the villages who could volunteer to drive neighbours to Etchingham but I really don’t think that’s wise at the moment when we are being strongly exhorted to follow the rules. One of my older neighbours will refuse to travel that far at the moment and just sit at home waiting, for however long it takes to organise safe delivery of the wonderful lifesaving vaccine. What a disappointment after the excitement and relief of the initial announcements of the vaccines.

  8. II also commented earlier this week on another article about this. Is it not possible for the local hospitals to start offering the vaccine to all over-80s instead of just those who are over 80 and are in-patients or out-patients of the hospital. This has been done successfully in hospitals in other parts of the country and the Conquest Hospital would be far more accessible for elderly people from Rye. Rural Rother is being left behind, we have heard today of people now being offered the vaccine who live in Hampshire and are in their late 70s.

  9. Firstly my thanks to all at Rye News who have been doing their best to clarify confusion around information being given about vulnerable eligible local people getting their vaccinations.
    I am curious to learn now exactly why the GP staff and facilities at the Rye Medical Centre and adjoining Hub were deemed not to be up to the standards of those of the Etchingham site?
    I am 82, have lived in Rye for 3 years and believe the Rye Medical Centre to be efficient, responsible and friendly.
    Can Rye News please find out what exactly happened here?

  10. I first had to remember where Etchingham is in relation to Rye and eastern Rother. Whilst nobody can envy the task of those who have to roll out the vaccination programme, this seems somewhat arbitrary. If not Rye, why not Hastings, which at least has more direct transport links?

  11. I would support many of the comments above and on the Charlie Harkness article. I do realise that Anthony Kimber will be working hard to try and achieve a more reasonable outcome, but, however, I do not have the same faith in our MP from her track record on other issues. I agree with those who wonder the new “Hub” on Rye Hill is not being used. It has adequate parking, it is accessible to Rye and all the surrounding villages and there will not be the definite health and distancing issues that there is in transporting people to Etchingham. There seems to be a reluctance to think local, rather than one large centre. It as if someone somewhere has just looked at a map and taken a compass to state that is the best place. The “Hub”, built at some expense seems the best place, for this eastern end of Rother. Also, are we to have the two stage vaccine or the one? If the two, then it will all have to be organised again. I note that in Tenterden, the over 80’s and frontline staff have been vaccinated and were done before Christmas. On the next boundary review, would it be better to move into Kent? I very much hope Anthony Kimber, and all the people who raise the issue on Rye News are listened to, and not ignored.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here