Primary Care Network: ‘Drive thru’ services offering a safe alternative to immunisation clinics

When the coronavirus pandemic first hit the U.K. back in March 2020, GP practices, amongst other primary care providers, had to quickly respond to the new social distancing guidance, whilst continuing to deliver patient care safely. One innovative way of doing this was by creating additional clinical areas outside the surgery and utilising car parks.

Moving certain clinics outside allowed practices to continue to provide urgent and routine immunisations, whilst adhering to the two-metre social distancing rule advised by the Government.

Eight months later, this way of working has become business as usual for many practices, as they continue to provide care using drive thru clinics. Practices have been able to work through their backlogs by inviting patients to drive thru appointments, safely away from other patients and staff inside the surgery.

Being ‘creative’ and ‘innovative’

The Brunel Medical Practice in Torquay began offering a drive thru service for vaccinations and B12 injections, as well as INR appointments back in April, with Practice Manager Rachael Lankshear commenting that ‘difficult times forced the practice to be creative and innovative.’

‘We wanted to protect patients from shingles and pneumonia, especially those at the highest risk of severe complications from COVID-19 but wanted to limit their contact with staff and other patients.’

Patients living with and caring for people at high risk from COVID-19 were very concerned about entering practice buildings to have their INR checked. Their concern for their loved ones outweighed the concern for their own health needs in many cases. Offering this service from a drive thru clinic allowed patients to feel comfortable accessing care whilst minimising the perceived risks.

The practice was able to vaccinate hundreds of patients in this way throughout the spring and summer months. The drive thru clinic received lots of positive feedback from patients in the first few weeks of opening, which then inspired the practice to offer flu vaccinations in the same way, to high risk groups within their local area. Patients were asked to book their appointment via the GP surgery, before pulling into the car park at their allotted time. Whilst remaining in the car, a nurse administers the jab wearing full PPE. The patient is then given time to recover before being asked to drive off the site.

Taking a ‘leap of faith’

More recently, the former Askham Bar Park and Ride on the outskirts of York has been developed into an extensive drive thru flu clinic, for eligible patients by appointment only. The site had formerly been used as a pay & display car park up until the Park & Ride site was relocated in 2014. The vast space allowed the service to have a greater capacity for administering flu vaccinations to patients and since opening on the 5th October, 4,000 patients have received their flu jabs using the drive thru clinic.

The service has already received positive feedback about the sites ‘efficient on-site processing’ and how the delivery of the service was ‘friendly and connected in a world that is increasingly distancing us one from another.’ One patient even remarked on the improvement the drive thru service has made to the local area, deterring some anti-social behaviour that had previously been a problem.

GP Dr Mike Holmes described the clinic as ‘a leap of faith’, commenting that asking primary care to come together and collaborate was by no means an easy ask; yet practices across the Vale of York CCG have embraced the new way of working, which has had a positive impact on not only the staff but patients too.

Finding new and inventive ways of working is more important this year than ever before, as the NHS prepares to roll out a COVID-19 vaccine alongside the flu jab. Creating drive thru clinics is just one example of thinking outside the box, protecting staff and patients whilst continuing to provide care to our local populations.