Volunteers praised as key to Covid vaccine roll-out success

1 June 2021
The volunteer team in Medway

With nearly 1.7 million Covid vaccinations given in Kent and Medway, the roll-out of the programme continues to be a huge success.

The achievement has been down to the hard work, dedication and commitment from local GPs, nurses, pharmacists and an army of colleagues working in the NHS and local councils.

It is also due to the outstanding contribution of local volunteers.

Caroline Selkirk, Executive Director of Health Improvement and Chief Operating Officer, said: “The complex and fast-paced roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine has been unlike anything we have delivered before.

“From the start of the programme to now as we continue to vaccinate people and protect them from the worst effects of this virus, it has required the concerted effort of hundreds of people across our communities.

“We could not have delivered millions of vaccines if it was not for the time, care and selflessness of our volunteers. On behalf of all of us at NHS Kent and Medway, thank you.”

To mark this year’s Volunteers’ Week (1 to 7 June) we are highlighting the significant contribution volunteers have made to the success of the Covid vaccination programme across Kent and Medway.

Fifteen GP surgeries across Medway South, Rochester and Strood teamed up to deliver 70,000 Covid vaccinations to their patients. To support the vaccine clinics at Lordswood and Rochester Healthy Living Centres, the practices teamed up with Medway Voluntary Action and the practices’ patient participation groups to identify 100 volunteers to help.

Sarah Leng, Transformation Manager at Medway South Primary Care Network, said: “Our volunteers have been key to our success – we couldn’t run the clinics without them. Special thanks to our lead volunteers, especially Tina Gilbert, who have overseen and looked after the volunteers in the clinics.”

Volunteers have been going the extra mile to make sure vulnerable people get their vaccines.

One volunteer said: “I spent almost an hour with a lady with dementia who refused to get out of the car. I went with her husband to the car park to persuade her to come in. She clung to me as I took her into the centre and I had to stay with her while she had her jab, then I made her a cuppa and gave her biscuits. She told me I was her best friend and she left with a smile.”

Medway volunteer Tina GilbertPatients have been complimenting the contribution the volunteers have made, including one who said: “I was welcomed and marshalled by a group of friendly and professional volunteers and painlessly jabbed. A perfect example of teamwork, made me feel particularly lucky.”

Pictured: Lead volunteer Tina Gilbert helping a patient at the Rochester Healthy Living Centre vaccine clinic.

Earlier this year St Peter’s Church Hall in Broadstairs was at the heart of a community effort to vaccinate patients from The Limes Medical Centre, Northdown Surgery, Bethesda Medical Centre and Mocketts Wood Surgery in Thanet.

Dr Ash Peshen, from Northdown Surgery in Margate said, “Our vaccine programme has been a real community effort with our dedicated clinical team being supported by fantastic local volunteers.”

Jessica McCormick and Bailey TaftSeveral of these volunteers were students from local schools and colleges, chosen because their age meant their risk profile for contracting Covid-19 and suffering ill effects was lower.

Bailey Taft, who is studying for his level 3 NVQ in public service at Canterbury College and Rua O’Hare, a student at St Lawrence College were greeting and supporting the screening of patients when they arrived for their appointment. Both spoke of their desire to support their community which at the time was experiencing “high infection rates” and a wish to “help get life back to normal.”

Rua OHare and Pratigya PeshenKeeping it in the family were students Pratigya, Dr Peshen’s daughter and Jessica McCormick whose mum works as the Frailty and Social Care Co-ordinator at Mocketts Wood Surgery.

Pratigya and Jessica, who hopes to train as a paediatric nurse, have both been touched by people’s reaction to having their vaccine. They said: “The patients are so grateful to be receiving the vaccine - it feels good to be part of this.”

Pictured: student volunteers Jessica McCormick, Bailey Taft, Rua O’Hare and Pratigya Peshen.

Cllr Aram Rawf

Local councillor Aram Rawf has also been volunteering at the clinics as a parking marshal to support the drop off and collection of elderly patients outside the site.

Councillor Rawf heard about volunteering at the vaccine centre while volunteering at Thanet Food Link and felt compelled to help. He said: “Helping each other out is what makes Britain great.”

Pictured: Councillor Aram Rawf marshalling cars outside the vaccine clinic in Broadstairs.

Charlotte HoyCharlotte Hoy, 17, is one of Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust’s youngest volunteers. Charlotte wants to train to be a doctor and was encouraged by her teachers at Tonbridge Grammar School to gain valuable hands-on experience by volunteering.

She started on the ward at Tonbridge Cottage Hospital in November 2020, sitting and chatting to patients, assisting at mealtimes and helping everyone get to grips with some new entertainment technology.

She said: “I wore full personal protective equipment (PPE), which was different to day-to-day life and made me feel I was on the front line and really making a difference”.

At the end of last year, when England went back into full lockdown, volunteering on hospital wards had to be suspended, so Charlotte changed roles and began volunteering at the large vaccination centre in Tonbridge.

“I marshal and support people around the building when they come to have their Covid vaccine. The efficiency and number of people who are seen each day has been a huge eye opener for me and I feel we’re all making a meaningful difference to things returning to normal.

“Volunteering has reinforced my determination to become a doctor. Everyone I have met has been kind, caring and welcoming. I know I want to join the NHS because these people are who I want to work alongside. I feel valued, I am thanked and I am looking forward to getting back to Tonbridge Cottage Hospital so I can do more.”

Minster Surgery Practice Manager Sandra Houghton has thanked volunteers for helping ensure the smooth running of their clinics, which were providing the vaccine to patients for the six GP surgeries in its area.

She said: “There is a single road in and out of the village in Minster so we have been supported by Thanet Lions Club to help direct traffic and support parking. Their volunteers have been really helpful and we are very grateful for their support.”

At Charing Surgery in Ashford, the vaccine site for five surgeries in the area was supported by the return of retired GPs and district nurses stepping in to vaccinate patients.

Practice Manager Kay Acott said: “It has been a massive team effort from our clinical staff to the amazing support from our local parish council which has provided volunteers and regularly published updates on their website to support public health messaging.

“We are also grateful to Tenterden Social Hub which has provided transport for vaccine patients unable to make their own way to their appointments.

“The positive energy has been palpable.”

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