If you have severe mental illness, the time to get your COVID-19 vaccination is now

If you or a loved one you care for have a Severe Mental Illness (SMI), you are eligible for a free NHS COVID-19 vaccination now.

It’s safe, effective and quick, and is the best chance we have of beating the virus, saving lives and getting back to doing the things we all enjoy.

Adults with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or any mental illness that causes severe functional impairment are eligible now, whatever their age, because they are at greater risk from the virus.

People who care for them – whether professionally or in an unpaid/family carer role – are also eligible, and if this is you we would urge you to come forward soon.

Most health and care workers have already had at least their first dose and are benefiting from the protection that it brings – we want unpaid carers to have that protection too so they can continue to be there for the people they love.

People with SMI and their carers should receive an invitation from their General Practice to get their COVID-19 vaccine. This might be by letter, text message or phone, or a combination of all three; however you are contacted, please do book as soon as possible.

If you are not sure whether you have an SMI which falls within the official definition above, we would encourage you to contact your General Practice, or mental health team if you are in contact with one, to discuss your condition and vaccination.

GP teams are encouraged to keep prioritising people with mental illness, applying a flexible approach to defining SMI. For instance, this could include people who are severely unwell with an eating disorder (who have a high or low BMI), or a diagnosis of personality disorder.

We also encourage GP teams to continue to ensure that no-one is left behind, including following up with people who do not respond to their first invite, and working with other NHS teams and local charity and voluntary groups to support people who may need additional support to attend.

If you have any concerns about the vaccine, health professionals at your local GP practice or any other vaccination service are happy to answer any questions you have when you attend your appointment, and in the meantime the NHS website has lots of useful information, and there are some other links from partners at the bottom of this piece.

If you have contact with a mental health team, they will be able to support you if needed: when attending appointments or talking to your mental health team, feel free to ask questions about the vaccination and how to access it.

When you book your vaccination, you should let the member of staff know if you need any reasonable adjustments to ensure you can attend your appointment. This could be:

  • a longer appointment time or one later in the day;
  • somewhere quiet to sit while you wait for your appointment;
  • support/ additional reassurance if you are afraid of needles;
  • asking if a carer/friend/ your peer support worker could accompany you to your vaccination appointment;
  • a home visit if you are housebound and not able to travel to a place that is providing vaccinations or;
  • a BSL sign-language service.

Staff, volunteers and patients will be wearing face masks as part of efforts to minimise the risk of spreading coronavirus. We know though that some people are not able to wear a face-mask – if this applies to you or the person you care for, please do let the team know when you book.

Thanks to the amazing efforts of local NHS teams – as well as the volunteers and partners they are working with – most people who are at higher risk of being seriously ill if they catch COVID have now had their vital first dose.

Appointments for first doses are still available for the rest of March, but they are filling up fast. So if you have a SMI or care for someone who does, and you haven’t had your first dose yet, please make this week the week you book.

 Further resources from our charity partners: 

Dr Nikki Kanani is a GP in south-east London and is Medical Director of Primary Care for NHS England and NHS Improvement. Prior to joining NHS England she was Chief Clinical Officer of NHS Bexley Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

Nikki has held a range of positions within healthcare to support the development of innovative models of care, highly engaged clinical, patient and public leadership and is passionate about supporting primary care, improving service provision and population wellbeing.

She is a member of The King’s Fund General Advisory Council and holds a MSc in health care commissioning. With her sister she co-founded STEMMsisters, a social enterprise supporting young people to study science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine. She has two young children.

Claire Murdoch

Claire Murdoch is NHS England’s National Mental Health Director.

She has been a registered mental health nurse for 34 years, and joined NHS England in April 2016.

She is also Chief Executive of Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust. With a wealth of clinical and leadership experience she is leading delivery of the national mental health programme.