May I begin by making it clear that I am not here to raise criticism for criticism’s sake? I am here because I understand how imperative it is that the vaccine programme is successful. Although I welcome the scale of the programme and the number of vaccinations delivered, I am extremely concerned about the vaccination take-up in my constituency, and the inconceivable decision to open the two new vaccination centres miles away from the NHS declared low take-up wards of concern.
Let me briefly explain the geography. The borough of Merton is split in two: Mitcham and Morden, and Wimbledon. Merton’s inequalities in health are stark, with an eight-year difference in life expectancy between parts of Mitcham and parts of Wimbledon. The Minister will be aware of Tudor Hart’s inverse care law—that the areas in the greatest health are then statistically more likely to receive better health services.
Look no further than Merton. When the state-of-the-art Nelson health centre was opened in one of the wealthiest, richest wards of Wimbledon, Mitcham received the “Wilson portacabin”. When lateral flow testing was introduced at community pharmacies, they were opened everywhere but Mitcham. When a decision was made to relocate acute hospital services—guess what? The proposals moved them miles further away from the most deprived areas, with the statistically worst health. While many of these decisions are baked into decades of inequality, the location of a vaccination centre is a decision for here and now.
Here is the state of play: there are two centres in Merton; one in Wimbledon and one in Mitcham. However, take-up of the vaccine across the borough has varied significantly and, as ever, the devil is in the detail. Merton has 25 middle and lower layer super output areas. Of the 12 with the highest vaccination take-up rates, 11 are in Wimbledon. In all 12 Wimbledon areas, over 93% of over-70s have received their first dose. Compare that with Mitcham and Morden, where seven of the 13 areas are still below 90%, and Mitcham West, where the vaccination take-up was just 81%. That means that one in five residents have been offered, but not accepted, the vaccine.
I recognise the breadth of factors as to why this could be, and that accessibility of the vaccination centre is only one. However, it is a significant one, particularly given that, of the two new large-scale vaccination centres that are set to open in Merton, both are in Wimbledon—two centres, miles away from the wards with the lowest take-up areas, which also have statistically lower levels of car ownership. Are we not supposed to be breaking down barriers, rather than throwing up even more?
I am not calling for Wimbledon to lose their services, but the Minister must surely see the absurdity of this decision.