It was supposed to be a triumphant moment – Matt Hancock watching on as a GP injected the first dose of the Oxford vaccine into a patient’s arm.
But in scenes likened to political satire The Thick of It, the Health Secretary’s visit to a north London surgery descended into farce when he turned up only to discover that the delivery of the jabs had been delayed.
Instead, Mr Hancock was challenged by a senior GP over the stuttering start to the UK’s vaccination programme, with doctors across the country complaining of delayed deliveries and vital appointments cancelled at the last minute.
Dr Ammara Hughes of the Bloomsbury Surgery in north London, told how she even “felt a bit sorry” for the Health Secretary as his visit turned sour.
“It was a PR disaster for him, I suppose,” Dr Hughes told The Telegraph. “A poor woman from NHS England told us the Health Secretary was arriving to watch us give the first Oxford jabs, and we were delighted.
“We’d been promised that 400 Oxford doses would arrive in the morning, but then we got a late call to say there had been a 24-hour pushback. So when Mr Hancock arrived, we didn’t have any. We had to do the Pfizer jab instead.
Ad hoc deliveries
“I did tell him that our deliveries are quite ad hoc to say the least, and he seemed quite surprised and said he would take it away. It’s frustrating because we’ve had to cancel appointments, and we do have the capacity to vaccinate three to four thousand patients a week – if we have the supply.”
At a Downing Street press conference, Boris Johnson announced that almost 1.5 million people have now been vaccinated across the UK, adding that the Army will use "battle preparation techniques" to keep up the pace of the rollout.
However, he cautioned that hiccups in the delivery plan, which will be set out in full detail on Monday, were likely.
“Of course in the early phases there is going to be lumpiness and bumpiness in the distribution,” he said. "Today it may be that some GPs aren’t getting the consignments expected. Other GPs are doing an incredible job getting jabs into people’s arms."
However, Birmingham leaders said the city had not been supplied with a single dose of the Oxford vaccine, with supplies of the Pfizer jab due to "run out" on Friday.
An open letter addressed to the Health Secretary from council leaders and Birmingham’s 10 MPs sought "urgent clarity and reassurance," adding: "It remains unclear who is responsible for overseeing the vaccination programme in Birmingham and whom we should hold to account for progress and delivery.”
West Midlands mayor Andy Street later said he had been assured supplies of the Oxford vaccine will be delivered to the city on Friday.
Meanwhile, GPs in other parts of the country said they were having to cancel dozens of appointments as promised deliveries failed to turn up.
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Don’t blame the surgery
In a message to patients, one surgery in Surrey said: “Unfortunately, all appointments that had been made this week for the over-80s Covid vaccinations have had to be cancelled due to a logistical delivery problem that was beyond our control. We know how frustrating this is but please DO NOT blame the surgery as it really isn’t our fault.”
Another in Binscombe announced that all upcoming appointments would be cancelled “due to a problem in the supply chain”.
Elsewhere, Gillian McLauchlan, deputy director of public health at Salford Council, told councillors at a local scrutiny committee: "We have no control over vaccine supplies. We are told literally two days in advance ‘your next lot of vaccines are coming’."
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‘Forgiveness and the forbearance’
Officials are trying to "iron out" issues with the deliveries, according to a health minister Lord Bethell, who asked for the "forgiveness and the forbearance" of any patients who are having to wait for their jab.
"It is true sometimes we have to line up people for appointments and the delivery of the vaccines, which is an extremely delicate task, is not proved to be always as reliable as we always hope,” he said in the Lords.
Global vaccinations doses administered
Both AstraZeneca and Pfizer have said they are supplying the vaccine as quickly as possible and to schedules agreed with the Government.
However, there are thought to have been long periods needed for regulators to test batches of vaccines before they are released to the NHS.
Delivered but not administered
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is understood to have taken on more staff to help speed this process up from 20 days down to four.
A source close to the Pfizer distribution told The Telegraph "millions" of doses had already been sent to the UK, but as of January 3 only 1.1 million people had received their first dose, according to NHS data.
The source added there must be a "buffer" of doses waiting somewhere in the UK to be delivered.
They added they believed there could be delays occurring once the vaccine is reaching the Government’s designated sites.
Once it reaches these storage facilities, it is then the Government’s responsibility to arrange logistics and get the doses out to vaccination sites, the source said.
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Checks slowing delivery
One NHS source suggested there was a problem with the time taken by Public Health England to safety check vaccines at a single giant warehouse in Merseyside before transporting deliveries to NHS vaccine hubs.
“Those checks are slowing down the delivery coming into the NHS, so it doesn’t automatically get from the warehouse straight out to where it’s needed,” the source said.
Public Health England, however, denied the claims with interim chief executive Michael Brodie insisting it was “categorically untrue to suggest that there have been any delays in delivering the vaccine from PHE warehouses to NHS hospital hubs”.
“We have delivered 100 per cent of orders from the NHS on time and in full,” he said.
Meanwhile, GPs have been issued with new guidance in a bid to speed up the process and vaccinate as many people as possible.
The advice from NHS England, seen by The Telegraph, suggests four-person teams could administer more than 100 jabs an hour.
And it says there is no need to keep patients under observation for 15 minutes if they have been given the Oxford vaccine.
The requirement to keep patients under watch after the Pfizer jab was introduced after two health workers with a history of allergies had an allergic reaction to it, but the new guidance says this is not needed for the Oxford jabs.