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Wigan council: We used flu jab to trial-run covid clinics

There are four local vaccination centres in the Wigan borough. Two are run from leisure centres, one from a community centre and the fourth at a conference centre. A local pharmacy has also recently started providing vaccinations recently.

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This is part of a series of case-studies published on 24 February 2021 

  • Wigan tested out its local vaccination centres during the flu vaccine campaign in the autumn
  • Council staff are working side-by-side with NHS colleagues in the centres
  • Logistical support has been provided to get centres up-and-running and keep them operational during the winter

Local context

The metropolitan borough of Wigan is part of Greater Manchester. It is home to 320,000 people.

There are four local vaccination centres in the borough. Two are run from leisure centres, one from a community centre and the fourth at a conference centre. A local pharmacy has also recently started providing vaccinations recently.

Flu jabs allowed us to test out sites

Wigan Council and the local NHS began working together on the Covid vaccination campaign at the end of summer. As well as offering flu jab at GP surgeries and pharmacies as normal, Wigan piloted using large community venues as a trial run for the Covid programme.

Wigan Council Director of Public Health Professor Kate Ardern said: “The flu vaccination campaign was bigger this year – it was offered to the over 50s as well so it made sense to provide it from more places and we knew when it came to the Covid vaccine we would be looking for community sites so we thought we would get going early.

“It really helped. It got us thinking about the flows through the centre, the challenges of vaccinating while wearing PPE and how to run the booking system. It was really invaluable – and meant when the Covid vaccine programme was ready rollout we could make a flying start.”

Staffing the venues has also seen the council and NHS working side-by-side. To run the four sites, around 40 vaccinators are needed at any one time as well as around 70 support staff - two thirds of those are provided by the council.

Professor Ardern said: “Council staff have been playing a vital role – organising parking, stewarding and runners. At the two leisure centres, it is the centre’s staff who are providing the bulk of the support workforce there. They know the buildings and sites – it was the most sensible thing to do.

Keeping these centres running requires a lot of logistical work. But you don’t want your clinical staff getting involved in that – you want to keep them doing the vaccinating.

“Some of it is problem-solving or dealing with glitches. I remember on the first day at Robin Park we did not have enough wheelchairs. We quickly dispatched staff to get more. The feedback we have received has been really positive. People say they are so impressed with how smoothly it all runs.”

But it is not just the staff working at the venues. Professor Ardern said behind the scenes there are lots of people who have contributed to the effort. “When we were looking for sites and setting them up estates colleagues played a role and once they got running environmental services have provided support too.

“One of the sites is near a river and during Storm Christoph we despatched one of our high-volume pumps and supplied sandbags just in case the water levels rose.”

Assistant Director for Environment Dave Lyon helped to coordinate that. “The vaccination centre is an extremely important location and in support of our health colleagues we added in additional protection by way of sandbags at all entry and exit points so the building would not be compromised and could maintain its fully operational status for the protection of our most vulnerable residents who needed to attend for their vaccination.”

The support has been invaluable, local NHS leaders said. Dr Tim Dalton, a local GP and Chair of Wigan CCG, said: “It is an incredible example of how working in partnership makes amazing things happen.”

And Linda Scott, Director of Primary Care at the CCG, added: “The council has been with us right from the start. We could not have achieved what we have without the input of the council.

“From finding the right venues to setting them up and staffing them, the help has been invaluable.

“And it is continuing. We recently opened a Covid vaccination clinic at a pharmacy. There was an issue with where people could park and drop off and so the council stepped in and changed the parking restrictions locally to help create space.”

Tackling vaccine hesitancy

Now the vaccination programme is being rolled out, the council is turning its attention to ensuring uptake is as high as it can possibly be.

Professor Ardern said: “Concerns have been expressed about take-up among ethnic minority groups. We do not have a big ethnic minority population, but we still working with faith leaders, with the Caribbean and African Health Network to address concerns.

I do a fortnightly Facebook Q&A. We did one recently with BAME medic on vaccination. It is a really good way to interact with the public. We get thousands taking part.”

Professor Ardern said there is also going to be a focus on care home staff.  “We have now been to all 52 care homes and vaccinated both residents and staff. We’ve seen good uptake among staff, but some concern expressed by younger women about the impact on fertility.

“It was not something we were expecting. But the communications team and GPs are looking at doing something around this. Setting out the evidence. You just have to be prepared to respond to the concerns people have.”

Contact details

Professor Kate Ardern

Director of Public Health

Wigan Council

[email protected]