People walking in street wearing masks

A programme like no other - the COVID-19 Vaccination Deployment Programme

Being in the middle of the Project Management Office (PMO) team in the middle of a vaccine deployment programme was not something we thought we would be involved in. For months on end, the result of our work was not only headline news but also the topic of everybody’s conversations.

Our challenge was to manage the programme to deliver the maximum available doses of vaccine to achieve the highest uptake in priority groups. All of which was delivered at a rapid pace and under massive public scrutiny. Our achievements on the biggest vaccination programme in the UK have only been possible through our one team mindset.

Background

In March 2021 we were successful in winning a competitive tender from NHSE to take over the existing PMO role for the COVID-19 vaccination programme. This built on the important work we were already providing across the programme’s briefing, publishing and strategy units.

Challenge

Our PMO leadership team worked closely with the previous supplier to ensure a smooth handover as stability was vital. Most importantly the progress of the programme needed to be unaffected.  Whilst nothing could prepare for the pace and intensity of the programme, the team were fully aware of the importance of the programme in making a positive impact on the everyday lives of the entire population. As a result, extremely robust induction processes were put in place for each of our PMO staff. The transition was described by our Director of Transformation, Louise Tranmer, as ‘taking over the controls of a jumbo jet in flight without a wobble.’

The challenge for the programme was how to maximise the different vaccines that need to be administered in different ways. This involved managing different observation times, changing dose intervals, different delivery models from inside a hospital to roving pop-ups, and changing supply capacity. We needed to keep up with the rapid pace of different groups of people becoming eligible and different behaviours, to maintain the demand. Finding and talking to hard-to-reach groups was key to success. Ongoing trials, emerging scientific thinking, data, and new variants could also threaten the efficacy of what we were doing. ‘Complex’ is almost too simple a word to describe the programme.

Key areas managed:

  • governance roles
  • central planning
  • risk management and capacity across hospital hubs
  • large vaccination centres and local vaccination sites
  • creating a briefing unit
  • managing a large backlog of parliamentary questions
  • streamlining processes to manage high volumes of Freedom of Information (FOI) related requests

Our approach

Probably the best explanation as to how our programme management worked is VUCA. Volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

Our key challenge was the size, scale, fluidity and pace - all of which was unprecedented and could be overwhelming. It was therefore essential that the team we put in place was flexible, adaptable and resilient as the programme changes rapidly and as a result so do the requirements of the PMO team.

We have specific workstreams looking at data and technology, as well as workforce, clinical and evaluation. Throughout we have the central PMO team as well as PMO teams in each workstream.

Each PMO team member embedded themselves within their workstream, getting an understanding of the programme and most importantly carved out a critical path for delivery, saving delivery teams precious time by taking on reporting processes so that those teams can focus on giving every individual the opportunity to get vaccinated.

For the COVID-19 vaccination deployment programme, a new approach was applied in two key areas: lessons learnt and the PMO remit.

  • Lessons learnt - it is standard practice for most projects to complete lessons learnt at the end of the project. Due to the fluidity and complexity of this project our PMO team decided a different approach was needed to align with the programme. As a result, ‘lessons learnt’ was a regular agenda item and process enabling key learnings from one week to be utilised efficiently for decisions for the coming week. The approach to lessons learnt was about celebrating success and what could have made things better.
  • Role of the PMO - our team needed to be flexible and adaptable to meet the challenges of this programme. With a real ‘can do attitude’, the highly skilled PMO team offered what has been described as ‘PMO Plus’ or ‘PMO Platinum’ service, essentially taking on and managing requirements that would not typically sit within the PMO role, but the team had the ability, skill set but most importantly the desire to support on what was needed and without exception rose to the challenge.

Impact

  • More than 100 million vaccine doses as of 8 December 2021

  • 261,000 hospitalisations prevented in those aged 45 and over as of 19 September 2021

  • 24,144,000 infections prevented as of 24 September 2021

  • 127,500 deaths prevented as of 24 September 2021 

Source: NHS England and UK Health Security Agency

One of our successes that were not a typical PMO requirement included the exceptional work that our team members carried out on the ‘Grab a Jab’ initiative.

By supporting a senior steering group to produce the plan, PMO team members were instrumental in the development of the ‘Grab a Jab’ initiative, which allowed anyone over the age of 18 to head into one of the country’s pop-up clinics and get a COVID-19 jab without an appointment. 

Another example included where the National Emergency Preparedness Resilience and Response (EPRR) acknowledged the work we are doing was ‘ahead of the curve.’ The National NHSEI Assurance Team have also commended the significant improvement in records management across the programme, with a 23% improvement in records compliance since we took over the function. As a result, our contract has now been extended from September 2021 until June 2022.

Overall, the feedback received is a testament to our PMO team and the way it has embodied our values while collaborating on a national programme that truly puts our patients first.


I have been so impressed by the professionalism, commitment and proactive nature of all the PMO team from SCW. The team transitioned into the programme in a seamless way and have added so much value to the overall programme. The PMO team is recognised as a team that delivers, is adaptable and has a very positive and well-respected profile across the programme - Liz Howarth, NHS England, Director of Covid-19 Vaccination and PPE Programmes

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