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 .