RogerBW's Blog

I thought they wanted us to get vaccinated. 13 March 2021

(Guest post from Gus.)

As of this week, I fall into a cohort eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine, one of the few things that makes me feel batter about being fifty-mumble. I like vaccines.

My aged parent has now had both doses and is thrilled; and I am thrilled for her. The rate at which the immunisation programme is being implemented is, aside from the development of the vaccines themselves, the only success story in this whole sorry mess, although I fear that the reopening of schools – where mask-wearing is not enforced and testing not compulsory and compliance a lot patchier than MSM would have you believe – will rapidly erode the early benefits that the vaccines have delivered. I want to be vaccinated, both as a stout smoker who feels that I might not fare too well in a square go with the spiky little fecker and to protect others: I can feel quite benevolent about 'others' in the abstract, although in their more concrete manifestations it's a bit of a toss-up. Pfizer, AstraZeneca, whatever: don't care. Jab me now.

And I am unlikely to be able to get it, because I am not registered with a GP.

Although the booking webpage says you need to be registered with a GP to book, the first actual question it asks you is whether you know your NHS number. Since by a miracle I do, I had a bash anyway. It couldn't find me, which didn't come as a massive surprise. So I rang 119 and, after the usual fun with seemingly infinite loops of menu options, got through to 'Zoe'. Zoe was lovely and couldn't have been more helpful. I explained that computer had said 'No' and that I do not want to register with a GP. Didn't go into the reasons with her, but in case anyone is interested: I have no faith in the practice that treated my late husband, the clue there being in the 'late'; I live on the wrong side of the Big Road for the other local practice to want me; also, I prefer not to be pressured about certain screening programmes that I believe are bad medicine ('My ____ is not government property!' is something I must embroider onto a sampler some time); and I used to use private walk-in GPs close to the office, so could access primary healthcare without too much difficulty in my monied, working days. But I digress, because I did not bore the hoop off Zoe with that rigmarole.

Zoe said that she thought, since lists of eligible vaccine candidates are generated off GPs' records, that it would not be possible for me to book a slot, NHS number or no. Feeling that while I might be awkward I am almost certainly not unique, I asked whether there might not be another way. 'I'll go and ask about that', she said cheerfully, 'if you don't mind me putting you on hold.' I held. For quite a while as it turned out, but at least the music was neither Vivaldi nor offensive. They got bonus points for that. She seemed quite surprised to find me still on the line when she came back, and thanked me for being so 'reasonable'; apparently – we were on quite chatty terms by then – not everybody is. I had my best Client Service hat on, though, and was projecting sweet reason and patience, qualities which those who know me well will testify are not the first that spring to mind when Gus is mentioned.

No, it was as Zoe had first thought. Slots can only be booked off GP-generated lists. Now, I had vaguely registered something on the news a few months back saying that people whose rights of residency were questionable could get the jab, no probs – presumably, therefore, by booking with GPs. I wonder how many of them felt brave enough to do so. In the last day or so, Group 6 prioritisation of homeless people has also been announced: the emergency accommodation that has been whistled up for the duration 'provides a unique opportunity to in-reach vaccination to a population that is otherwise often unable to access basic healthcare', according to a BBC article. Obviously this is a Good Thing, presuming no coercion is involved, but I am curious about the mechanisms by which vaccinations will be delivered and recorded for this cohort. Temporary GP registrations, perhaps,or something more ad hoc? Please do not mistake my curiosity for envy.

The only thing to do, according to Zoe, is to write to the complaints people who are the only department which might have the power to 'escalate my booking'("But I'm not complaining as such!" "That's OK, just tell them that in your letter".) And it has to be a proper, dead-tree, snail-mail missive: Zoe couldn't give me an email address and half an hour with various search engines left me none the wiser. One writes to:

(first line) NHS Covid-19 Vaccination Booking Service Complaints Patient Experience Team
(second line) South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust

… I think we're going to need a bigger envelope. And I'm almost certain that the letterbox in question will not have a plate reading 'Beware of the leopard' nailed over it. Almost. They're in Otterbourne, by the way. A friend who knows the place assures me 'Nothing happens in Otterbourne!'. I wouldn't know.

Chances are I will remain in ignorance of Otterbourne-based activity levels, because there is one other course of action open to me: to register with a GP. I just feel that, if vaccinating as many of the populace as are willing as swiftly as possible is the goal, I shouldn't have to. And not that GP. I draw the line at that.

  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 09:39pm on 13 March 2021

    We had a very good presentation at work about vaccines, side effects, case rates, variants and so on. The chap giving it was excellent and answered many questions in detail, far more detail than mainstream media. But your question came up, twice, with employees asking "I'm not registered with a GP and don't want to, how do I get vaccinated?" and his answer both times it was asked was "Register with a GP. Next question." I get the feeling there really is no alternative.

    Don't get me wrong, I hate my GP quite strongly. He mis-diagnosed me with asthma for 14 years, and told me there was no diagnostic test for asthma when I asked (actually there has been one since the 1950s). Turns out after lengthy investigation when it got worse I have Bronchiectasis, which needs entirely different treatment. I'd been telling them for 14 years I don't have asthma, but no they knew better. Despite that I remain registered, they're the only GP I can register with where I live.

    You are cutting your nose off to spite your face. I'm sorry for your loss, but your actions are hurting yourself and potentially others around you. Register with a GP and put up with it. The NHS is not a bespoke service, see the US for what happens with that approach.

  2. Posted by Gus at 11:10pm on 13 March 2021

    Not very receptive to being told 'put up with it', tbh. I am sorry you were misdiagnosed and suffered as a result. VBW Gus

  3. Posted by Owen Smith at 03:42pm on 14 March 2021

    You could try volunteering at a vaccination centre. Sometimes the volunteers get left over doses at the end of the day to avoid wasting it. One of my friends got vaccinated this way. I have no idea how long you might have to volunteer for this to work.

  4. Posted by Nicola Zealey at 05:43pm on 14 March 2021

    I changed GP. I had a long term condition which she described as 'not within GP land' and I was not treated for years. The GP I changed to was excellent and I was treated within months. Unfortunately the good GP left and I am now back with the original one. But if I am unhappy I will switch GP again.

    I'd register with a GP and if you find they are bad please do switch. At least the bad one might get the message maybe they could do a better job.

    It is not entirely the fault of the GP's. The 2012 health act was a complete clusterf**k disaster and combined with continued under funding has made getting treatment hard or impossible unless the illness is obvious.

    Treatments come from the GP trusts budgets and the system is designed to penalize them if they treat patients unless they are clearly and undeniably ill with illnesses that belong to 'GP land'.

    What is annoying is it does not even save money. There are massive costs of law suits and the huge extra cost of delaying treatment. It is one reason the UK has some of the worst cancer treatment records in the developed world. The default assumption of the system is all patients are worried-well until it is too late to catch the cancer in time.

  5. Posted by John P at 11:28pm on 14 March 2021

    You can ask to be registered at any GP, not necessarily the one that covers the area where you live. However, they don't have to accept you, and may not cover you for home visits. But if you are unhappy with your nearest one then it would no harm to ask - and they might be sympathetic if you explain why. I read that practices are accepting temporary registrations at the moment so that the vaccinations can reach out to illegal immigrants, so if they can do that then I can't see that they would have a problem with you.

  6. Posted by Gus at 03:19pm on 15 March 2021

    The default assumption of the system is all patients are worried-well until it is too late to catch the cancer in time

    That struck a chord twice over. And yes, I do understand why the problems are generally more structural in origins than the fault of individual practices. But there are some lousy GPs out there (and some phenomenally good ones, such as my mother's local centre).

    The conclusion that there is probably no alternative to registration was arrived at towards the end of my grumble. But wouldn't it be nice if there were robust IT procurement and a centralised system, driven off NHS numbers, that... No, Gus, don't be silly.

  7. Posted by RogerBW at 03:38pm on 15 March 2021

    …that didn't just leak your data in dribs and drabs but put them up for wholesale transfer to anyone with the cash?

    Well, congratulations, we're getting it.

    Oh, you thought there might be some benefit to you in that?

  8. Posted by Owen Smith at 01:04am on 18 March 2021

    My GP surgery won't do the health checks they're supposed to do when you reach 50. They told me all the checks do is encourage the worried well to be more worried. I remain unconvinced.

    I did manage to get them to give me MMR vaccination as an adult 6 months before covid struck. I never got mumps or rubella vaccines as a child (introduced too late for me to have them), and those diseases are doing the rounds again. And you really don't want measles since it erases much of the immunity to anything you had. I did have to lie and say my nephew and niece were reluctant to have MMR and that if I could show proof I'd had it I might persuade them. I also got my last Tentanus shot at the same time, I'm up to my lifetime count of 5.

    And then blow me, reading up on vaccination schedules as part of covid I find that the pneumonia vaccine is strongly recommended for anyone with bronchiectasis, which I've got. No-one mentioned that to me when I was finally diagnosed, neither the consultant at Addenbrokes nor my GP. So I'll be pestering them to get that once things have died down with covid.

  9. Posted by RogerBW at 08:21am on 18 March 2021

    I had those age-50 checks. They are entirely trivial and won't tell you anything you shoudn't know already: height, weight, heart rate, blood pressure, diabetes, and that's about it. (Or "pre-diabetes", which has been invented to sell drugs and lifestyle advice: it's not as you might suppose from the name "this is a set of symptoms which suggest you might develop diabetes soon", but rather "this is a set of indicators which are slightly towards the diabetic range from normal, but we have no reason to suppose will ever change, especially as we're only going to check them once".)

    They don't even test thyroid function, or FEV₁, or any of the actually useful indicators.

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