Lothian MSP brands flu vaccine rollout hitches ‘a recipe for disaster’
A Lothian MSP has claimed the flu vaccine rollout is a ‘recipe for disaster’ and demanded the Scottish Government intervene, amid reports of pensioners being asked to travel 20 miles for jab.
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It comes after the Evening News reported people in their 80s are being sent appointments at centres far from their communities to get the annual vaccine, as GPs are no longer providing them.
A large number of worried residents have contacted local politicians to complain about the distance they are being asked to travel, with many in Edinburgh being asked to go to Ingliston and as far as Gorebridge or East Calder for their jags.
Daniel Johnson MSP has written to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon calling for urgent action to avoid ‘complete chaos’ over the winter period and ensure problems don’t discourage people from getting the vaccine.
One Capital pensioner who battled Covid-19 for three months was told he had to make a 20-mile round trip to the Royal Highland Centre to get his jab, from his home in Newhaven on the other side of Edinburgh.
Meanwhile, people living in East Lothian faced a 70-mile round trip to Ingliston for their jab until local rearrangements were made.
Mr Johnson said the winter flu vaccination programme, which has been taken over by local health and social care services for the first time this year, is repeating the mistakes of the covid-19 vaccine rollout in spring.
Under the centralised system appointment letters sent out from a national database advise people they can rearrange online if their appointment is not suitable, or by calling the national Public Health Scotland helpline.
But fed-up residents from the capital have reported being asked to call back in a few weeks, with one being told the system was ‘in chaos’. Others were told there were no alternatives in their communities until the end of November.
Tom Loughrie from Edinburgh said he called the helpline but claims they ‘didn’t have a clue’ how to help him.
The 85-year-old said: “Sending people my age out that far is impossible. It just isn’t practical. I’ve got balance problems and have a heart condition. I’ve had several heart attacks. I
have to walk near railings in case I keel over. I called to ask if I could go somewhere more local. But after waiting half an hour to speak to someone I was told they didn’t know how to help me and asked me to call back. Why set up a helpline if you are going to employ people who don’t have a clue.”
"My son is home from work offshore next week so he will drive me to the appointment. I am one of the lucky ones. But what about the people who don’t have anyone to take them or access to a car? If it wasn’t for my son I’d have to take 2 or 3 buses and have a long walk to this place. Many won’t be able to get out there. I’ve a lot of neighbours around my age and they said they don’t know what they will do.”
Labour MSP Mr Johnson said: “This is so frustrating. We raised similar issues back in spring when we saw problems with the covid-19 vaccine. Lessons have not been learned. Nobody is taking responsibility here.
"The local health board said they have no control over the centralised system. Now we have the Government saying it’s down to health boards. We seem to be relying on a centralised system which randomly generates appointments with no local insight. It’s a recipe for disaster. We can’t simply have another case of passing the buck here. It’s not acceptable.”
Chiefs at the Edinburgh health and social care partnership said they were aware of a problem resulting in some appointments not being ‘as local as we had expected.’
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Seasonal Flu Immunisation Programme helps to protect the most vulnerable and alleviate pressure on the NHS and social care services. This is more important than ever in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Responsibility for delivering the Seasonal Flu Vaccine in 2021/22 rests with Health Boards and Integration Authorities. NHS Scotland Health Boards will use a delivery model which is most suitable for their local circumstances, whilst maintaining a COVID-19 safe environment and maximising efficiency. This is a change from previous years, where GP practices, took the lead role in providing flu immunisations.