The past year has proved that it is possible to for NHS Digital and its partners to shift from working within multi-year to multi-week timescales when developing national programmes.
“We do need to be a bit careful about what lessons we learn,” says Stanbury. “There was a lot of forgiveness from other teams who accommodated the activities carried out by the vaccines workstream. We also need to realise that many of the things that might seem to slow things down in ‘peacetime’ are actually the measures you put in place to make the best use of scarce resources. We had more license to use what we needed because of the unprecedented speed of delivery, but this isn’t viable under normal circumstances.”
However, it’s clear that ways of working with suppliers have been developed over the past year that are valuable.
“We had a much more collaborative and open way of working during COVID-19,” says Burnett. “Suppliers have been happy to work together and I hope we can carry on doing that in the future.”
Spirit explains: “You have to leave your identity badge at the door. We shouldn’t view what was achieved as coming from a combination of different organisations – it was more a group of people trying to achieve the same goals."
People queue outside a mass vaccination centre for those aged 18 and over at a London stadium, amid the coronavirus pandemic, on 19 June 2021. Photo credit: Reuters
Now that a large majority of adults in England have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, Stanbury, Spirit, Burnett and the rest of the team are gearing up for the next phase of the programme and finalising plans to support the NHS with both flu and COVID-19 vaccinations this autumn and winter. This includes things such as enabling eligible groups to book a single-dose ‘booster’ COVID-19 jab in line with guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation and ensuring tech systems are set up to support sites to administer both flu and COVID-19 vaccinations at the same time.
Burnett sums up the achievement: “The levels of stress and work involved were huge. People were working from home and trying to fit in home schooling at the same time. It certainly wasn’t the best environment for very long hours. But everyone managed. In fact, they knocked it out of the park.”
Stanbury agrees: “The work is far from over, but I think as we progress we should not be afraid to look back and be really proud of everything we have achieved.”