South Tyneside MPs demand answers over vaccines for hospital trust staff

South Tyneside’s MPs have written to the Health Secretary over concerns many frontline NHS workers in the borough are yet to receive the Covid-19 vaccine, despite having been promised priority status in the Government’s initial statements regarding the scheme.

South Tyneside's MPs have voiced concerns over vaccines for NHS workers in the borough
South Tyneside's MPs have voiced concerns over vaccines for NHS workers in the borough

In a letter seen by The Gazette, South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck asked Matt Hancock why the Government had chosen not to prioritise frontline health service workers in its distribution of the vaccine.

Jarrow MP Kate Osborne also signed the letter addressed to the Health Secretary, which quizzed Mr Hancock on the rationale behind the decision as well as over the question of a deadline for staff vaccination at the trust.

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Last Wednesday, it is understood 25 members of staff at Sunderland and South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust (STSFT) had received the vaccine.

Jarrow MP Kate Osborne (left) signed Emma Lewell-Buck's letter to the Health Secretary

As of Tuesday, December 22, STSFT said just over 200 staff members at the trust had received it. The trust employs more than 8,000 members of staff.

Each member of staff was classed as ‘extremely vulnerable’ and had travelled to primary care centres in Easington, Sunderland and South Tyneside in order to get the jab.

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The trust’s Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development, Kath Griffin, told The Gazette: “Whilst we are yet to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, we are hopeful to have it early in the new year and have already started making extensive preparations to ensure that we are ready to start vaccinating our staff.

"We are also working closely with our partners to see if we are able to access some of the vaccines they already have for those staff who are most at risk.”

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South Tyneside District Hospital, John Reid Road

Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has been designated one of the few vaccine hub trusts in the region. It, however, declined to reveal the number of staff members at its trust who have so far received the Covid vaccine.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week said that 500,000 people had now had their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine nationwide.

In their letter, the two South Tyneside MPs cited the borough’s status as the only area in the North East currently on the coronavirus hotspot list.

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Besides South Tyneside’s current infection rates, the pair pointed to deprivation levels across the borough – as it was ranked one of the top 15 most in-need areas nationwide for health, education and income last year, according to the 2019 Deprivation Indices – as further evidence for urgent provision of the vaccine to health workers in the area.

South Tyneside District Hospital, John Reid Road
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Commenting after the letter was sent to the Secretary of State, Mrs Lewell Buck said: “Once again, the Government has over-promised and under-delivered.

"They told NHS staff they’d have the vaccine and then, at the eleventh hour, decided to change their mind.”

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Professor Wei Shen Lim, COVID-19 Chair for the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises UK health departments on Covid-19 vaccines, said: “The JCVI’s advice on COVID-19 vaccine prioritisation was developed with the aim of preventing as many deaths as possible.

"As the single greatest risk of death from COVID-19 is older age, prioritisation is primarily based on age.”

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Ms Osborne told The Gazette it was “extremely concerning” that thousands of clinical staff were still to receive the vaccine.

She said: "With the infection rates in South Tyneside remaining high, it is imperative that these brave, hard-working staff are vaccinated at the earliest opportunity.”

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