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Capacity to be ramped up at coronavirus vaccination hub at Newbury Racecourse

Clinics dependent on supply of vaccine and race days, Strawberry Hill GP says

John Herring

John Herring


01635 886633

Capacity to be ramped up at coronavirus vaccination hub at Newbury Racecourse

The first round of Covid-19 vaccinations at Newbury Racecourse has gone successfully and capacity is going to be ramped up.

But future clinics are dependent on supply of the vaccine and race days, a local outbreak engagement board meeting heard tonight (Monday).

Nine West Berkshire GP surgeries teamed up to open "a mini-mass vaccination centre" at the racecourse last Thursday. 

Dr Abid Irfan from Strawberry Hill Medical Centre said that it had taken a bit of time to establish and thanked the racecourse, GP practice managers and volunteers for their efforts. 

He said that the first clinics had been a real success with positive feedback from patients. 

Clinics were held on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday using one batch of the Pfizer vaccine.

Dr Irfan said that three of the largest care homes in the district had been administered with around 300 doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine.

He said: "A really, really good start, hoping to ramp up the numbers as we get more and more of the vaccine, but it is determinant on the supply of the vaccine.

"We have taken things a bit slowly in the first week just to test the procedures and the protocols."

He said the racecourse would probably be running to full capacity in the next week, with clinics on Tuesday and Friday.

"After that we have housebound patients and we will be using community centres to help with those," he said.

Steve Masters (Green, Speen) asked whether the racecourse could be used seven days a week.

Dr Irfan replied: "It's subject to race days. If there's a race day, even if it's behind closed doors, I understand the racecourse has said we can't be on site." 

Racing is taking place on Wednesday afternoon.

Newbury Racecourse said on social media: "A decision was taken not to operate on Wednesday to minimise the risk to all participants, but this is being reviewed moving forward."

Dr Irfan added: "Assuming there's no race days the next question is when are the supplies coming in?

"If the supply is on a Monday you normally book the next three days. If we are getting a supply every day, and no race days, then technically you could operate that as a seven-day hub absolutely, subject to staff and volunteers". 

Dr Irfan said that the racecourse was chosen following the success of a coronavirus primary care hub established there last April.

"We went back there because the site is a central location, lots of easy access, parking and a great venue to work with," he said.

Howard Woollaston (Con, Lambourn) asked why GPs had decided not to vaccinate at the nine surgeries using the racecourse. 

Dr Irfan said: "I think the key reason was not to disrupt services back at the base. I know some surgeries have done that but our view, as a collective group of GPs, was that it was best done off site so that we could maintain those services."

He said that surgeries had a number of national priorities such as mental health checks and smear tests. 

"There was a whole host of things we were asked to do, and continue to do, irrespective of lockdowns or what the state was in respect of infection rates," he said.

"We felt that to provide a safe and on-going service for all the routine care it was better off site, and all the logistics around the Pfizer vaccine, the infection control, mixing up, it just made sense to us". 

Asked about surgeries in neighbouring Hampshire being ahead of the game Dr Irfan said: "We were one of the latter waves, so it's just a matter of timing. 

"We will catch up and as supplies increase to our hub we can ramp up capacity significantly.

"So I think there may be a bit of a lag but I would reassure patients and say we are working on it. The hard work is done now. We've just got to get the vaccine and then we can ramp up capacity. 

"We will get through all the cohorts. We may be two or three weeks behind those who started before Christmas but we will get there. People will get their vaccination."  

Asked about the timescale of vaccinating different age groups by council leader Lynne Doherty (Con, Speen) Dr Irfan said: "Because we were one of the later waves to start because of the set up time, we probably need to continue with the over 80s.

"We think in the next couple of weeks we will have all of those because we have a fairly elderly population in our patch."

He said that he was quite confident that all care homes would be vaccinated by this weekend.

He added: "Once those cohorts are out of the way we will move down the cohorts - extremely clinically vulnerable, over 75s, the 70s - it is all subject to supply of the vaccine.

"At the moment you can't go and order the vaccine, it's a kind of a push system but I'm advised that's going to change. 

"The difficulty with planning at the moment is we don't really know what we are going to get the next week, so we're working within a short few days, so that's why it's not as smooth as it could be. But once we're on an ordering system we can plan weeks in advance."

Some residents have reported being asked to travel to the NHS vaccination centre in Marlow. 

Dr Irfan said: "I think that has caused a bit of confusion but I think that's there to provide some choice." 

He advised that surgeries were working through the list of patients but they would be in touch "and then they can have it done locally but it's really a matter of choice." 

Dr Irfan said that surgeries had been asked not to share local vaccination figures because they are sent and compiled nationally and then need to be validated to make sure they are accurate. 

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Article comments

  • ImalwaysWright

    19/01/2021 - 21:01

    The lack of urgency is a serious concern. We don't want to disturb regular work such as mental health, well I can tell you mental health will be 10 fold if you don't sort this out. As for cruel, corrupt horse racing put before immunization, you couldn't make it up. I'm so disappointed by the response, or lack of it by our local practices. Am I allowed to move practice ? I'd happily drive to Darlington and have my jab at 4am, unfortunately those in charge don't share the same sense of urgency. You'd have thought being 5 weeks behind other areas they'd be pulling out all the stops to catch up but apparently not so. Hang your heads in shame


  • Villager

    19/01/2021 - 19:12

    BUT the question is why didn't they start to plan the vaccination centre about six weeks earlier than they clearly did? Then they could have started as soon as they were offered vaccines. They knew it would be coming.


  • Fredy

    19/01/2021 - 15:15

    Shameful! What a shambolic charade complete with farcical excuses showing complete contempt for real people. I know a three year old with better organisational skills. Thank goodness others had the sense not to send vaccines before our wonderful volunteers woke these particular doctors from their pre-Xmas slumbers. David Cloud


  • Art E Ficial

    18/01/2021 - 20:25

    Awesome, so there’s a global pandemic, lockdowns & people dying but West Berks decides on a part time vaccination venue when others are planning 24/7 operations. It beggars belief that vaccination has to be suspended for race meetings!!! What joke