The UK currently has the second-highest percentage of citizens vaccinated against Covid-19. At the time of writing (April 2021) nearly 50% of the UK population has received their first shot, with 9.42 million of us in the UK now fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. That’s 14.1% of the population vaccinated against a previously unknown variant of a deadly virus in less than 12 months.
From research to delivery, the speed at which vaccines have been researched and rolled out in the UK is historically unprecedented. This monumental (and still ongoing) achievement would not have been possible without the knowledge and expertise of the UK’s medical doctors. From GP’s to consultants to ICU clinicians, the contribution of doctors to the UK’s vaccine success story cannot be overstated.
In this article, we’ll look at some of the ways doctors in the NHS have enabled the incredible vaccination rollout in the UK.
Before the vaccine- Patient Zero
It’s estimated that the NHS employs around 150,000 doctors across its workforce. This includes GP’s, hospital doctors, and specialists or consultants in other primary care or community setting. When Covid-19 first arrived on UK shores in January 2020 frontline healthcare professionals were the first to raise the alarm.
The first Covid-19 case in the UK was identified by three NHS consultants. Dr Nick Easom, Dr Anda Samson, and Dr Patrick Lillie are all specialist consultants in infectious diseases at Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. It was thanks to their knowledge and the quick thinking of their team that the UK’s first Covid-19 patient was identified as such. If these three hadn’t been drafted in as experts in the field of novel and infectious conditions, there is every possibility that the UK’s patient zero could have been misdiagnosed as a case of common flu.
Our understanding of Covid-19 in January 2020 was nowhere near current levels, even though it was barely over a year ago. There are many countries where initial cases were misdiagnosed as common conditions and patients allowed back out into the community. Thanks to three NHS doctors the UK was not one of these countries. Patient Zero was isolated and immediately the cogs in the UK’s healthcare machine started turning.
There is always going to be some debate as to how appropriate the UK’s initial response to the presence of Covid-19 was. What’s not in doubt is that the debate-worthy decisions didn’t come from the NHS itself. The fact remains that if it weren’t for Dr Easom, Dr Samsom, Dr Lillie, and the watertight NHS procedures that made sure they were in the right place at the right time, the situation in the UK would have been much, much worse.
By April of 2020 extra capacity was needed to tackle the large numbers of UK citizens needing primary medical care due to Covid-19. Starting with London, NHS ‘Nightingale’ hospitals were set up across the UK to relieve the pressure on NHS hospitals. Some of these Nightingale hospitals would treat Covid-19 patients, others were to take non-Covid cases so that more beds were available in hospitals.
Thankfully, the NHS never reached the critical worst-case scenario which would have seen these nightingale hospitals full to capacity. The London Nightingale Hospital (at London’s ExCel centre) had a capacity for 4000 patients. By May of 2020, it was able to be put on standby. Other Nightingale hospitals in the UK soon followed suit, with some reopening later to act as large scale vaccine hubs.
Despite being purpose-built for a worst-case scenario that didn’t manifest, the speed at which Nightingale hospitals were designed and deployed is a testament to incredibly high levels of knowledge and expertise within the NHS. Doctors were critical to the planning and implementation of the Nightingale hospitals. NHS doctors (such as Barts Health NHS Trust emergency medicine and pre-hospital care consultant Dr Gareth Grier) made themselves available not only for delivering treatment but for logistics and planning. Without the knowledge of Dr Grier and others like him, putting together suitable teams and coordinating resources to ensure patient care wasn’t compromised would not have been possible.
Doctors on the Covid-19 frontline
150,000 members of the NHS workforce are Doctors. These range from medical students and junior doctors through to consultants and senior clinical specialists. A great many of these work in critical care units, either directly or adjacently through other departments (for example as theatre specialists coordinating with the CCU team for patient aftercare post-surgery). Numbers vary, but it’s thought that the NHS employs around 2,500 intensive care consultants alone.
Doctors and other healthcare professionals in the ICU’s and CCU’s of the UK were on the frontlines in our national battle against Covid-19. They quite literally put their lives at risk to ensure that the NHS didn’t collapse under the strain of the Coronavirus. There is a tragically high number of people no longer here due to this terrible disease. If it wasn’t for the heroic daily efforts of those working days on end in intensive care units UK-wide, this number would be much higher.
It wasn’t just ICU and CCU doctors taking up arms though. Doctors and clinicians across all departments and settings made incredible sacrifices and adjustments to ensure we collectively reached the other side of the pandemic.
Whether in a hospital, primary care, or community setting, no UK doctor found their work unaffected. As a group, the profession rose to the challenge spectacularly. Whilst there have understandably been some unavoidable delays, it is thanks to the hard work of the UK’s doctors that the NHS could still offer non-Covid related treatment throughout the pandemic.
The UK vaccine rollout
The first Covid-19 vaccination was administered on the 8th of December 2020. Margaret Kenna, then 90, received her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. This was a turning point in our fight against Coronavirus.
Since then, over 32 million vaccine doses have been administered in the United Kingdom. This world-leading statistic wasn’t achieved by accident or some stroke of luck. It was due to coordinated efforts and foresight at all levels, from the government down to individual hospitals and local GP surgeries. Anything from a cathedral to a car park was repurposed into a vaccination centre as needed. According to Dr George Kassianos, national immunisation lead at the Royal College of General Practitioners, the goal was to ensure that vaccines could ‘flow freely to the (vaccination) centres’. Thanks to the coordinated efforts of hundreds of doctors, nurses, clerical and administrative staff, this goal was achieved with flying colours.
Whilst there aren’t yet statistics available for the exact numbers of staff involved, there are currently just over 3000 vaccination centres in the UK. In England (where there are 1400 individual vaccination sites) nobody lives more than 10 miles away from their nearest vaccination centre. GP’s started offering vaccines to vulnerable groups in December of 2020. Fast-forward to April 2021 and the momentum has not slowed. The doctors of the UK continue to drive our world-leading vaccination program, setting the standard in what can be achieved through the coordinated application of their expertise and knowledge.
UK GP’s and vaccine distribution
Community-based general practitioners are playing a key role in the distribution of Covid-19 vaccinations in the UK. The UK’s vaccination rollout success would not have been possible without the coordinated efforts of GP-led primary care networks. Without the dedication of GP’s to public health, there wouldn’t be anywhere near as many people in the UK currently vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The NHS Director of Primary Care, Dr Nikki Kanani (also a practising GP) spoke for many of her profession when she said “As a GP I am proud to be part of this huge national effort to protect our patients against the virus.”
Thanks to GP’s like Dr Kanani and the primary care services they provide, the UK public had access to Covid-19 vaccinations from local, familiar settings. From December 2020, 280 initial General Practice sites started to offer the first wave of available vaccines. More joined in the months that followed, creating an essential vaccination infrastructure without which the rollout would not have succeeded.
Overseas NHS Doctors during Covid-19
Almost 30% of hospital doctors in the UK are from overseas. A great many GP’s and non-hospital consultants also joined the NHS from outside the UK. International doctors have made amazing contributions to the NHS since its inception. The Coronavirus pandemic was no exception.
Many international doctors relocated during the pandemic, starting their first role in the NHS amidst national lockdowns and national uncertainty. At Remedium we’ve been a helping hand for many of these doctors, securing them the rights roles and assisting with everything from visa application through to finding accommodation in the UK. We’ve dedicated ourselves to ensuring that the pandemic wasn’t an obstacle for international doctors hoping to start a career in the NHS.
The NHS could not exist without the exceptional skills and talents of the international doctors working alongside their British counterparts. The incredible contributions of overseas doctors to the public health of the UK during the pandemic proved this to the nation. Many of the public would have received their vaccination directly from a doctor born outside the UK.
Doctors- a foundation of the UK’s vaccine success
As you can see, the incredible success of the UK’s Covid-19 vaccination rollout would not have been possible without the incredible efforts of NHS doctors. Every member of the NHS workforce played their part; doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants, administrative and clerical staff, therapists, right down to the cleaners keeping hospital wards sterile and hostile to viral particles. However, without the clinical expertise and experienced decision making of its doctors, the UK wouldn’t have been able to mount any kind of defence against the Coronavirus.
From initially identifying and isolating Covid-19 in the UK, to coordinating testing, to organising a primary care led community vaccination rollout, doctors of all levels have kept the UK safe from the worst-case scenarios we all feared, and continue making a post-pandemic future ever more likely.
Joining a world-leading national health service with Remedium.
If you’re a doctor (UK based or overseas) wanting to join the NHS then reach out to Remedium today. We have been finding permanent NHS positions for UK and international doctors throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Our team of recruitment consultants have an in-depth knowledge of the NHS hiring process, meaning that your application is always in an expert pair of hands. We haven’t compromised on this at any stage of the pandemic, meaning that travel restrictions and national lockdowns have never been a barrier for our candidates.
Give the team a call today if you’d like to discuss some of our open NHS vacancies for doctors, or register your details with us today. One of the team will be in touch to discuss the first steps towards your next position in the world-leading health service which carried the UK through the largest global health crisis of our lifetime.