People on life-saving dialysis who had been living in fear since the start of the pandemic have now been vaccinated in record time.
Patients with kidney failure are extremely vulnerable to the virus yet are unable to shield because they need regular dialysis to stay alive.
Now hundreds of patients living across South West Wales have been given their first dose following a fast-moving operation coordinated by a specialist team based at Morriston Hospital.
They worked with renal staff across South West Wales to give the vaccine to patients who were attending their routine sessions in dialysis units ranging from Swansea to Aberystwyth.
Those first doses were delivered to around 400 patients within days, with a 99 per cent take-up and not a single dose wasted.
For people like Cyril Phillips, who has to travel from Maesteg to Morriston for regular dialysis, it has provided much-needed comfort.
“When they offered me the vaccine I said yes straight away because it provides reassurance,” said 87-year-old Mr Phillips.
“I wasn’t going to take my chances at my age. I may not have been fit enough to fight it.”
Renal pharmacist Lee White said: “I was thrilled to be able to offer Cyril his vaccine while he was on dialysis.”
The renal service is based at Morriston Hospital but its patients live across South West Wales. Some 1,200 dialysis treatments are carried out across the region every week.
This involves patients coming into one of the dialysis units in Swansea, Carmarthen, Haverfordwest and Aberystwyth and spending up to four hours on a dialysis machine.
Consultant renal pharmacist Chris Brown said that, when the pandemic struck, the patients were classed as clinically extremely vulnerable.
“Not only because of their kidney disease but because they were unable to shield and had to visit busy dialysis units three times a week for life-maintaining treatment,”he said.
“Data shows they have a much higher risk of death from Covid-19 than the general population.
“Someone aged 30 having in-centre dialysis has the same risk of death if they contract the virus as an 80-year-old in the general population. One patient told us they were living in fear.
Renal pharmacist Rachel Ashcroft said the time patients had to spend on dialysis made it hard to access community vaccination appointments
“So it was decided they would be offered the vaccine while they were attending their usual dialysis session,” she added.
A team was mobilised once the vaccine roll-out for clinically extremely vulnerable people was approved. Renal pharmacists at the main centre in Morriston buddied with a specialist nurse at each dialysis centre.
With the nurses using their personal knowledge of their own patients, coupled with the renal pharmacy team’s digital prescribing expertise, all patients had their first dose within a matter of days.
“Around 99 per cent of patients consented to the vaccine, which is extremely high, and with not a drop wasted,” said Professor Brown.
“This showed that, despite the challenges, administering the vaccine in dialysis units was certainly possible.
“Delivering such an effective programme that included units across the rural areas in Hywel Dda demonstrated to other dialysis centres across the UK that they could follow suit.
“The UK Renal Registry said we had done an excellent job in vaccinating our dialysis patients, describing it as the best in the country.”
Professor Brown said the dedicated staff that made up such a very special service had worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic.
“They have been under significant pressure, caring for people who rely on us,” he added. “Now the vaccination programme offers much-needed hope for better months ahead.”
Debbie Hopkins, sister at Morriston Hospital’s renal unit, said: “I remember clearly at the start of the pandemic the very real fear of what may lay ahead for our patients and the staff caring for them.
“That fear has been with us throughout.
“Every patient who has been given the vaccine is grateful to have had it on dialysis as it reduced their exposure to other areas and it is administered by a team who know them well.
“I am delighted we have been able to do this.”
The unit’s clinical lead nurse, Ann Phillips, added: “Our renal pharmacists have been exceptional to get this done so efficiently.
“They have shown such compassion in explaining to patients why they should have the vaccination and addressing any anxiety.
“One patient who had the vaccine on his 66th birthday told me this was the best present he could have wished for.”