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Warrington Borough Council: ‘Everyone is pulling together’

Warrington Borough Council has been working closely with the NHS since the start of the pandemic – on everything from outbreak management to contact tracing and vaccinations.

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This is part of a series of case-studies published on 5 February 2021.

  • The council has supported the NHS on the logistics, finding the right sites, including one clinic at a mosque
  • Helped to recruit staff to work at the centres and working with voluntary sector to provide transport
  • Communities and neighbourhoods team playing a part in addressing vaccine hesitancy

Local context

Warrington is a large unitary authority in Cheshire, responsible for a population of more than 200,000 people. There are five primary care networks, which have set up vaccination centres in a variety of locations, alongside a clinic at Warrington Hospital.

Director of Public Health Thara Raj said: “It has been billed as an NHS led service. But I know what an important role local authorities have to play. I was responsible for vaccination across London in 2013 and led two of the national pilots on the introduction of the child flu vaccination.

We have been working closely with the NHS since the start of the pandemic – on everything from outbreak management to contact tracing - so it was only natural we would do the same with vaccinations.

The logistics

Ms Raj said the council started working in earnest on vaccination during the autumn by helping the PCNs find appropriate sites.  “We recognised is was important to have big spaces that people know and feel comfortable in.

“Some are at GP centres, but that has not always been possible or appropriate. We were able to work with the five primary care networks to find the right sites. We have a drive-through centre, one at a mosque which is getting going and there is one at the rugby stadium.

“All are well-known, popular sites. We were able to do some of the negotiating and planning as we have relationships with the different organisations that run them.”

And now the centres are up-and-running, the council is helping to make sure the vaccination rollout goes smoothly whether that involves getting people to the centres, helping recruit staff or putting plans in place to cope with the winter weather.

Ms Raj said: “We have had problems with flooding recently. There was a real worry what impact this could have had on the vaccination centres – if the electricity had gone off that could have caused real problems. There was particular concern at one centre – we were monitoring the water levels closely and getting ready for mobilisation. Fortunately, it was not needed.”

Ms Raj said the council has also worked with the local community and voluntary sector to establish a pool of drivers who can help people who have mobility issues get to the centres.

It is a really vibrant community. Everyone is pulling together – as they always do – to help.

A similar effort is under way to recruit vaccinators. The hospital already has a pool of around 80, many retired health workers, waiting in reserve. “The vaccination centres are relying on primary care staff at the moment, but we know in the coming weeks and months some will have to go back to their day jobs. We have to be ready for that so our local infection control nurses are working to identify people from the local community who can become vaccinators.

On top of this the council is also supporting the voluntary sector with the recruitment of volunteers to do marshalling at the centres.  “We are in this for the long haul and it is important we don’t lose momentum,” added Ms Raj.

Vaccine hesitancy

But ensuring good uptake is going to require more than just having vaccination sites in the right locations. Ms Raj said the council was working hard to address concerns people have about vaccination as well as keeping them informed about what is going on.

“We have a very vibrant community sector. Groups and support organisations and befriending services are still going – they are obviously not meeting up in person like they once were, but they are still connecting with people online.

“We have provided them with some Q&As and literature so they can answer questions and are aware of what is happening with vaccination. We have also done something similar with staff who are having contact with the public.”

This has also included the communities and neighbourhood team, who are doing the door-knowing for Warrington’s local contact tracing services as well as helping staff the rapid testing community centres.

Head of Neighbourhoods Chris Skinkis said: “People are really beginning to ask questions about vaccinations so we have provided some awareness training to our staff who are working in these situations.

“We have two rapid testing centres, one of which is at the rugby stadium where vaccinations are taking place. We want to take every opportunity to promote and encourage people to come forward.

“People are asking all sorts of questions from when they might be called to how the vaccine have been made so quickly. If our staff cannot answer questions they make sure they can put people in contact with someone who can.”

Warrington wants to build on this by developing a network of community Covid champions, for which the government has provided £318,000 of funding.

The aim is to recruit around 10 to 12 community champions. The council is also working with a group of pharmacies that have recently started delivering the vaccine in communities with high numbers of BAME. They have the capacity to do 1,000 vaccinations a week, although the hope is this will soon increase to 2,000.

Mr Skinkis said: “We know from surveys vaccine hesitancy is higher in BAME groups. If we want to make the most of these vaccination facilities we will really have to reach out to these communities. The pharmacies are run by two people who are in the local Islamic association. We need to work with them and other influencers in the local community to engage people.”

The funding Covid champions funding will also be used to work with charities who support with people with learning disabilities. “We are worried about this group and the barriers they face,” added Mr Skinkis.