Floating coronavirus vaccine clinics reach out to local boating communities

Almost 300 people from the boating community have been given the Covid-19 vaccination thanks to a specially commissioned boat traveling the canals and waterways of Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire.

The unique project enabled health professionals to hold drop-in clinics at several riverside locations across the area, and to deliver vaccinations to hundreds of people who live on boats on a full-time basis.

Live-aboard boaters often face barriers to healthcare and are thought to be at risk of missing out on the vaccination programme.

Fanny Gorman, a live-aboard boater, said; “As a key worker, I can’t say how much I appreciated the vaccine boat as I’ve had to work throughout the pandemic.

“I know boaters can have real issues registering with a GP and, personally, if I get a letter from mine, it’s normally delayed getting to me because I have to use the GP surgery address.

“The boater clinic was so well organised and I’m really grateful to everyone involved.”

The joint initiative involving public health teams at Bath and North East Somerset Council, Wiltshire Council, local GP practices, housing charity Julian House and Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire Integrated Care Board, has ensured that local boaters have been able to receive vaccines in an easily accessible, safe and timely way.

The innovative project delivered vaccinations at numerous waterway locations across the BSW area over the Easter period, including the Dundas Basin, Bradford on Avon, Devizes Wharf and Pewsey Wharf.

Cecil Weir, Fundraising & PR Director, Julian House: “This project has been a fantastic success, both in terms of properly understanding the needs of live-aboard boaters, as well as pulling together the complex logistics which were necessary to make the vaccination sessions happen.

“In normal times, there are very serious challenges for this community in terms of accessing health services.

“Many don’t have transport, and the remoteness of moorings mean that journeys to facilities are difficult. The boater community has really appreciated the efforts that have been made on their behalf.”

Gill May, Director of Nursing and Quality, said; “This initiative is testament to the shared commitment by the NHS, local authorities and voluntary sector to ensure no one is excluded from the vaccination campaign.”

Councillor Rob Appleyard, Cabinet Member for Adult Services at Bath and North East Somerset Council, said: “These mobile clinics recognise the additional challenges that boaters can face when trying to access health care and are there to ensure everyone who would like a vaccine can easily access a clinic close to where they’re moored.

“It is really good to see how positively this has been received and how it could work with other areas of health and wellbeing support.”

The new initiative builds on the learning gathered during a successful flu vaccination pilot project carried out by the BSW Partnership, which is made up of local health and care organisations, at the end of last year.

Clinics are held on board the narrow boat Litania and see jabs administered by a team including clinicians, public health staff and outreach workers.

The Litania is provided and driven by staff from the Canal Ministries organisation.