Shropshire council: Free transport to help rural population get vaccinated

Shropshire has set up a transport service to help improve access to vaccination clinics in one of England’s most sparsely-populated counties

This is part of a series of case-studies published on 11 February 2021 

  • Shropshire has set up a transport service to help improve access to vaccination clinics in one of England’s most sparsely-populated counties
  • Staff redeployed to support vaccination centres, while council contact centre runs telephone booking service for staff and some patients
  • IT and project management support provided to set up centre

Local context

Shropshire is England’s second largest inland county, covering an area of 1,347sq miles.

Aside from the borough of Telford and Wrekin, which is a separate unitary authority, there are five main towns of which Shrewsbury is the biggest. But two thirds of the population live elsewhere, making it one of the most rural and sparsely-populated counties

There are four local GP-led vaccination centres in Shropshire as well as two larger vaccination centres at Ludlow racecourse and an indoor bowls centre in Shrewsbury.

Vaccinations have also been provided from the Robert Agnes Jones Hospital and Telford International Centre, while the nearest mass vaccination centre is in Birmingham.

Free transport to improve access

Given the rurality of the county, the council has made improving access to vaccinations one of its key areas of work. It has set up a free, Covid secure transport network for anyone who cannot get to their local vaccination centre. Members of the public who do not have access transport can ring the council’s Covid hotline to ask for support.

The council has re-tasked its park-and-ride service in Shrewsbury and Ludlow to help transport patients to those vaccination centres – the racecourse in Ludlow is four miles outside the town.

It has also developed an on-demand offer for those vulnerable residents who without bespoke transport arrangements would not be able to attend their appointments, covering all the vaccination sites. Its own transport services, which would normally be providing transport for people with mobility issues and to get pupils to school, has been repurposed, with private commercial operators also providing essential support.

Its on-demand service has already helped 150 vulnerable residents without transport get to their vaccination appointment. The feedback has been incredibly positive with one person saying they were “thrilled” to get the help and another saying they were “so grateful” for the help.

Councillor Dean Carroll, cabinet member for Adults Social Care, Public Health and Climate Change, added:

The rollout of the vaccination programme is imperative to fighting the virus and getting back to life as normal. We need to ensure our residents who have been invited for a vaccine can attend their appointment.

“This will provide an essential service for those vulnerable residents who may otherwise be unable to attend their vaccinations appointments.”

Head of Communications and Engagement Nigel Newman added: “We are a sparsely populated county and not all our residents have access to a car or public transport, so accessibility was a real concern. We also have a number of carers who have not been able to get vaccinated so the transport service has been made available to them too. It is a major under-taking, but one that we think will be really worthwhile.”

But providing transport is just one element of improving access, said Mr Newman. “Like everywhere, there are pockets of scepticism about the vaccine and we recognise some people have concerns.

We have been engaging with our local population all the way through the pandemic, working very closely with the NHS to stress key messages whether it is testing, staying at home during the lockdowns to promoting the vaccination centres we now have in as positive a way as possible.

We plan to do the same to address vaccine hesitancy. We can for example use our strong digital reach to support the NHS, have a positive impact, as well as working with our community leaders to promote uptake.

Redeploying staff to run centres

The council has also worked with the NHS and other partners in the public sector and voluntary sector to help set up and staff vaccination sites. IT support has been provided by the council, while estates has been involved in sourcing and securing centres, highways with signage and routes.

Staff from across the council have also volunteered or been redeployed to support, including enforcement officers who are helping with marshalling and contact centre staff who are in charge of running the telephone booking service, initially for staff and then for queries and re-bookings for the public.

Director of Public Health Rachel Robinson said: “There are lots of key roles that councils are well placed to fill. Much of this is going on behind the scenes – it is not noticed by the public, but without it we would not be able to run vaccination services like we do.

“We have also done a lot of work identifying frontline health and care staff who meet the JVCI criteria. There are a lot of workers in the care and voluntary sector who were entitled to the jab because they work on the frontline with vulnerable patients, but the NHS would not know where they were or who they were. We have helped identified those organisations and staff for NHS colleagues.

“We also supplied project and operations managers to help get the two local vaccination hubs up-and-running – they did everything from finding the equipment needed, such as the chairs and pods to ensuring the sites met the health and safety risk assessments to arranging for car parks to be safe.”