'We want Northamptonshire to be proud': How the county has led the way in the vaccination rollout

Chris Pallot, the director of the Covid vaccination programme in NorthamptonshireChris Pallot, the director of the Covid vaccination programme in Northamptonshire
Chris Pallot, the director of the Covid vaccination programme in Northamptonshire
"This is team NHS Northamptonshire - this is all of us pulling together," says the man in charge

For the team behind the vaccination roll out, there was one aim. To make Northamptonshire proud. They have done that, and then some.

Northamptonshire has been leading the way across the country for the way in which it has approached the mammoth logistical task of mass vaccination. At the last count, it was the third best in country with other health authorities looking on in envy.

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Chris Pallot, the director of the Covid vaccination programme in Northamptonshire, says it has been a privilege to be part of the team that has achieved this. And it is a team effort, he says, no one individual has been solely responsible for its success.

"There has been a lot of planning and a lot of work from colleagues, most importantly this is team NHS Northamptonshire - this is all of us pulling together," Chris told this newspaper.

So why has Northamptonshire been the national success story that it has? Health Secretary Matt Hancock recently remarked that it wasn't by luck that Northamptonshire was storming ahead, it was by hard graft.

And that comes through when you hear Chris talk about the rollout, which first started in early December when Northampton General Hospital was chosen as one of the first sites in the country to begin vaccinating the first wave of recipients.

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"That was put in place fairly quickly," Chris said. "At that time, the guidance and policies were emerging and we had to find our way through.

"It wasn't that we had anticipated the vaccination programme and started just in case, but when the orders came down the chain we were straight out of the blocks - but without everyone coming together and taking the bits of the puzzle they had and solving it themselves, we wouldn't have got here," he said.

Once the NGH hub was set up, the work by those in the 16 primary care networks across the county was vital.

"Each network nominated a hub where they operate the vaccine service locally. It was critical that it was near to people's homes and familiar to them," he said.

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Community pharmacists, which this newspaper has been campaigning for, will play a vital role too in the future and some are expected to come on board in the next few weeks.

The opening of the "super" vaccination centre in Moulton Park was a milestone moment.

Thanks to the support of local authorities, this empty office block was transformed into a clinical unit capable of administering 1,500 jabs a day in a safe environment. A simple thing to say, a very complex logistical project to deliver.

"When you have 1,500 people coming through in a day, it has to run like clockwork," Chris said, who is incredibly proud of the work done by the team.

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"We have had some wonderful feedback form the public, from the friendliness of the staff to the how quickly they get the vaccine, it remains a privilege to be part of it," he added.

The centre has been staffed by a number of sources - East Midlands Ambulance Service, who were instrumental in the launch of the first hub at NGH, to part-time workers doing extra hours and to people coming back from retirement. At any one point, there are 62 people on duty, with around 700 shifts a week.

Northamptonshire will hit the target of 135,00 jabs by Sunday and, it is far to say, it is the envy of many other health authorities. Colleagues from across the country have visited the Moulton Park hub to understand how, and why, it has worked so well.

The challenge, as the rollout continues, will be to maintain those levels of staff but Chris is confident that this will not be a problem. It is also dependant on the supply of vaccinations. The timescale of the future vaccination programme is uncertain but Chris expects it to last until at least the end of the summer.

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While it has undoubtedly been a team effort, the weight of responsibility for delivering the project has laid squarely on Chris's shoulders. So what keeps him awake at night?

"Many things!" he said. "The pressure is huge, you can't have a complete day off and there are very few times when you can't think about work but that comes with the role. You just have to live with it.

"It is a once-a-in-a-career moment and it is a privilege to lead the team. It is so enjoyable to see just how grateful people are - there are tears in their eyes when they receive the vaccine and see the beginning of the end to all of this," he said.

"The biggest tribute for all of this would be that grandparents can mix with their families, people can go out on a Friday night, we can go to the football and rugby again... and I can go to Northampton Beer Festival in the summer!

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"We want Northamptonshire to be proud - and we want to thank the public for their support and we want to thank them for their gratitude and for their compliance and we want them to continue to listen to the messages around hands, face and space.

"Most of all, we want them to have hope."