The government has been unable to say how many frontline healthcare workers have had a Covid-19 vaccination, despite them being a priority group who should all have the jab by Monday.
Health secretary Matt Hancock has set a target for the government to vaccinate its top four priority groups by February 15, including all over-70s, elderly care home residents and their carers, and health workers.
Yet at a Downing Street coronavirus press conference earlier this week, frontline health workers were the only people within those four groups whose vaccination progress was not announced.
More than 13m jabs have already been given in the UK’s vaccination programme, which is one of the furthest ahead in the world.
But the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said on Tuesday that there were ongoing fears nursing staff who do not work directly for the NHS were being left behind.
It found that 85% of 24,370 nursing staff members polled between January 29 and February 2 had received a coronavirus vaccine. Of the 15% who had not, 70% worked in non-NHS settings – for instance, in social care settings such as care homes, or employed by agencies.
Of the nursing staff who had not received a vaccine, 55% had not been offered it at all – around 8% of all respondents.
The most recent figures from the British Medical Association (BMA) from their bi-weekly survey of doctors, covering the dates January 27 and 28, showed that 93% of respondents had received at least their first dose of the vaccine, out of a sample of 5,833 respondents in total.
But while individual organisations representing workers have publicly released their findings, the government has not.
Frontline health and social care workers are included in the second cohort of those in line to get the vaccine, alongside “all those 80 years of age and over”.
NHS England releases a detailed breakdown of information on who has had the vaccine on a weekly basis, with the number of vaccines given by age brackets “under 70”, “70-74″, “75-79” and “80+”.
Figures are also provided for the number of care home residents vaccinated.
But there are no figures indicating how many frontline health and social care workers have had the jab – despite them being listed as a priority group amid hundreds of Covid-19 deaths across the health service.
HuffPost UK set out on Tuesday morning to find out how many frontline health workers had been vaccinated against Covid-19. Despite going to three different public health agencies and 10 NHS trusts over the course of two working days, we were unable to access any nationwide data.
This does not mean the data doesn’t exist, or so we have been told. A government spokesperson told HuffPost UK that “of course” the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), led by Hancock, has records of how many healthcare workers have had the vaccine.
They were, however, unable to provide details of how these have been collated.
It was suggested by the spokesperson that the governmental department was keeping track of the number of healthcare workers who had received the jab using their NHS numbers.
But an NHS England spokesperson told HuffPost UK NHS numbers “don’t come into it”, and it is understood that NHS numbers do not generally link up to people’s occupations or professions.
HuffPost UK first contacted DHSC on Tuesday, asking if they could provide the most recent figures on how many key workers have been vaccinated so far across the UK, citing releases from the RCN and the BMA.
A spokesperson for the department said they did not have the data on vaccinations broken down by occupation. Asked why, the spokesperson said the figures published on the dashboard were “basic stats” collected by NHS trusts across the devolved administrations, and suggested getting in touch with NHSE, which publishes more detailed weekly breakdowns of the data.
We contacted NHSE shortly afterwards, with a spokesperson telling HuffPost UK: “I’m afraid we don’t yet have this data nationally. Individual trusts and employers will be keeping track at a local level of numbers of their staff who are vaccinated.”
Asked if NHSE had a date for when they would have, or would be able to release this data, the spokesperson said they were unsure whether a date had been planned and suggested contacting the DHSC.
HuffPost UK reached out to 10 different NHS trusts across different regions of England, to ask them if they could provide up-to-date figures on the number of frontline workers vaccinated.
At the time of writing, 24 hours after the requests were sent, three trusts had replied. Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust said, as of Tuesday, that 75.4% of front line staff had been vaccinated, though a spokesperson said this rate was likely to be a “little higher as some will have been vaccinated elsewhere”.
East London NHS Foundation Trust said that, as of February 9, “over 3,000” staff had been vaccinated, amounting to almost 60% of workers in the trust.
Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust – the only trust outside of London to respond – said the information could only be obtained via a Freedom of Information request.
After confirming that NHS cards “aren’t a necessity for vaccination and they don’t come into it” a different NHS England spokesperson said it would be “inaccurate” to say data hadn’t been collected on the number of frontline healthcare workers vaccinated, adding: “We have published an increasing number of data sets since the vaccine rollout began and we are looking at ways to improve that moving forward, but it’s obviously really important that it’s fully verifiable and correct before we do so.”
The spokesperson told HuffPost UK that an “official update” would be made available “in due course”, but with the government’s target nearing there was no confirmation of when this would happen.
We also contacted Public Health England (PHE), which actually collates the government’s Covid-19 dashboard, to ask if it had any further breakdown of the data.
But a spokesperson said: “We don’t hold or produce vaccination take-up data – we just collate on the dashboard what is published elsewhere by NHSE and the DAs [devolved authorities].”
In a formal statement, a DHSC spokesperson said: “We are grateful for the tireless efforts of all our key workers, including healthcare staff, at this difficult time. They are keeping us safe and ensuring that vital services carry on. We are following advice from the independent JCVI to vaccinate the most vulnerable people in cohorts 1-4 first and this includes frontline health and care staff.
“The NHS is pulling out all the stops and we are on track to offer a vaccination to everyone in these first four priority groups by mid-February. We collect a range of data on the vaccination rollout and any implication that we do not is inaccurate.”