A Behind-The-Scenes Look at England’s NHS Vaccine Rollout and the critical role played by Practicus
Behind the scenes of a world grappling with Covid-19, the scientific and medical community were engaged in a race that would prove unprecedented. The quest? A safe and effective vaccine treatment from conception through to mass inoculation. And all in the same year the pandemic had begun.
It was on the 8th of December 2020 that the UK etched a red-letter day in this race, administering the first-ever dose of an approved vaccine outside of trials. What followed would become the largest and most intricate vaccination programme this country has even seen.
One name that may not have made the headlines but was integral to this enormous effort was Practicus. Selected to partner with NHS England, Practicus provided a team of seasoned supply chain and logistics consultants to provide expertise that the NHS simply did not have at this time. These experts, armed with commercial, military and NHS backgrounds, played a pivotal role in crafting and executing the National Vaccine Rollout Programme. This included achieving many firsts in collaboration with the NHS teams, such as the readiness of the first 1,000 large vaccination sites and 350 Hospitals within a mere 22 days.
Why was the Practicus team needed? It may not be immediately obvious. Put simply NHS logistics do not usually take place on a true national scale but on many local scales. When the NHS was founded, it was not as one monolithic organisation but rather as many thousands of organisations. Consequently, the rapid national rollout of COVID-19 vaccines was a challenge on a scale that the NHS had not really faced before. That’s why outside expertise of large-scale intricate logistics planning was so crucial. The NHS needed to collaborate with people who had delivered national and international centrally managed logistics programmes from industry, as well as other branches of government such as the military.
NHS Vaccination Programme
Faced with a mammoth task, the team had to orchestrate an agile rollout plan to vaccinate all medically eligible adults in the UK, prioritising individuals based on vulnerability and age. The challenge was compounded by the fluctuating supply and storage requirements between the different types of NHS vaccines available, along with dynamic eligibility criteria and dosing intervals.
In September 2020, the Practicus-NHSE partnership began. Our team brought a unique blend of expertise, supplementing the NHS’s existing structures. Their main role was to facilitate an effective nationwide estates network to support the mammoth objectives of the vaccination programme.
In dealing with the unique demands of the programme, the team’s innovation and ability to make quick yet informed decisions were put to the test. They developed ‘vaccination pods’, a concept allowing for scalability based on local needs. The Practicus team members also acted as crucial interfaces, linking national programme directives with regional implementation plans.
Throughout their journey, the team grappled with a number of unpredictable variables, from reaching marginalised patient groups to handling fluctuating supplies of the vaccines to the NHS. The team’s ability to adapt and make changes at a moment’s notice was crucial to their success.
Team work on NHS Vaccine programme
“We, collectively, had to meet the vaccine approval timeline dictated by JCVI, which would be 8 to 12 weeks,” says team-lead Simon Woodward, “And then start vaccinations within a couple of days. So we set to work re-evaluating the data to work in real world scenarios, and designed several concept models to meet the various needs of the population.”
Working with other teams, the Practicus team designed:
- Simple and workable supply chains
- Tech + Data IT solutions
- Workforce staffing structures and training requirements
- Clinical collaboration to ensure everything met with their requirements
- Plus many other things
“We had to create a safe, efficient and fit for purpose environment that would meet both the public need and the NHS’s high standards,” continues Simon. “We tested the designs and wrote how to guides for opening, setting up and running each model.”
The Practicus team also worked with the military to review the population densities for each cohort, then guided the Regional teams on strategic site placement and size/throughput needs.
Together with their NHS Estates colleagues, the Practicus team then started to project manage the readying of the sites: ensuring all legal, clinical and operational elements were in place for go live.
Covid Vaccine NHS
The impact of Practicus’s efforts is nothing short of remarkable. In collaboration with the EECL and other partners, the team achieved numerous feats. One noteworthy achievement was the readiness of the first 1,000 large vaccination sites and 350 Hospitals within a mere 22 days, followed by over a hundred more large-scale vaccination centres in the subsequent 24 days.
In addition to these, Practicus’s prudent use of real-time inventory data minimised NHS vaccine wastage, while their creation of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) provides a legacy for future programmes. Their commercial negotiation skills also proved to be a boon, saving an estimated £7.5 million for the NHS.
In the first 10 months, the Practicus team has contributed significantly to the delivery of a staggering 117 million doses of NHS Covid vaccines across England. The monumental task of rolling out a NHS vaccine programme of this scale has not been without its obstacles, but with the contribution of teams like Practicus, it has become an testament to human innovation, expertise and resilience.
Legacy of NHS Vaccine programme
As a result of the NHS vaccine programme, 3,500 live sites were created from scratch. It is calculated that 127,500 lives were saved in those first 10 months and a further 106,600 hospitalisations were prevented via the booster.
The Practicus team were one of the important components in this achievement. The team leaves a continuing legacy through the £7.5m in savings as well as training 300+ people in the tools that were generated and developed during the programme and creating a standard operating procedure (SOP) library. The team also created models to support the transition from the programme to business-as-usual.
One of the Practicus team, Anita Jackson describes her describes her experience of the programme powerfully, “I’m grateful for the opportunity to support the National effort. My roles on the Covid-19 programme are some of my career highs. I loved working at pace and scale engaging and connecting with the multiple stakeholders at National, Regional, System and Site level and of course other valued stakeholders beyond the NHS. What a great opportunity!”
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