Borders health chiefs say sorry for flu jab booking ‘shambles’

Health chiefs in the Borders have issued an apology and admitted being unprepared for the ensuing demand after encouraging Borderers to get in touch to book flu jabs.

By Joseph Anderson, Local Democracy Reporter
Friday, 25th September 2020, 4:55 pm
Updated Friday, 25th September 2020, 4:59 pm
NHS Borders chief executive Ralph Roberts.
NHS Borders chief executive Ralph Roberts.

Some of those eligible for vaccinations have reported waiting several days on hold after phoning the regional health board’s booking line, with others saying they haven’t been able to get through at all.

Over the last two weeks, NHS Borders has been sending out letters out to those eligible inviting them to book appointments via a dedicated telephone line.

However, angry Borderers have since vented their anger over the inadequacy of that service via the board’s social media channels.

One, Ann Downie, wrote: “I think we should be able to book through a doctor’s or a nurse. My hubby has been trying for two days now and still no one is answering.

“We don’t have a viable email address so we have to keep trying, and it’s not a free number.”

Another, Rosie Howie, wrote: “This is ridiculous.

“People are getting stressed out trying to get through.

“It’s absolutely impossible to get an answer.

“I have called over 30 times and only get an engaged tone. It’s time this got sorted out.

“Are there actually any agents on the end of the phone line?”

Mary Munro commented: “Why do they have to change a system that worked fine?

“I’ve been on the phone for two days, got through to a person once, then it cut off. It’s a shambles.”

Nicola Tait wrote: “I’ve emailed tonight on behalf of my elderly father who called, got the automated response and thought it was a person who told him to do it on the computer then hung up on him.

“Covid is making things so difficult for our most vulnerable.”

After being confronted with those and many more comments, NHS Borders put out a press release admitting it had massively underestimated the demand for the jabs.

It reads: “Because of Covid-19, our flu programme is both bigger and different this year.

“Appointments need to be pre-booked and will be provided in different locations.

“We have set up a completely new booking system to deal with this.

“The positive response to book an appointment immediately on receipt of the letter has placed exceptional demand on our new vaccination booking line.

“We have received over 60,000 call attempts and 4,000 emails over the past three days.

“It is clear we have underestimated the immediate demand to make an appointment as soon as letters were received.

“We therefore need your assistance and patience and can give you reassurance that everyone who is eligible will receive their vaccination over the next few months.

“We ask that if you cannot immediately get through to the vaccination booking team that you do not immediately redial but that you ring again at a later time or on a different day.

“If you have emailed us, please wait until a member of our team contacts you. Please do not re-email us.”

Ralph Roberts, the board’s chief executive, added: “I fully understand why people are frustrated about not being able to get through to our booking line.

“I apologise for the delays that many of you are experiencing and any inconvenience and worry this is causing.

“We recognise, in hindsight, that we could have been better prepared and we are making every effort to expand our booking capacity and learning from what is a new experience for us all.

“I can assure you that our team are working incredibly hard and we will ensure that everyone does get an appointment so that you receive your flu vaccination over the next few months.”

The vaccine is free for those aged 65 and over, pregnant women, children up to secondary school age, healthcare workers, unpaid or young carers and those with underlying health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis and other heart, lung and liver diseases.

In addition, eligibility for the flu vaccine has now been expanded to include household members of individuals shielding from coronavirus, those aged 55 and over not already eligible and social care workers providing direct care.

The region’s vaccination programme is due to get under way on Thursday, October 1, and continue into December.

NHS Borders had put out a press release last week encouraging those eligible for jabs to get in touch sooner rather than later.

In it, associate director of public health Keith Allan said: “Flu is a serious illness which can be life-threatening.

“The flu vaccine is the safest and most effective way to keep yourself, your family and others protected from flu this winter.

“I would urge anyone who is eligible for the vaccine to get it.

“The vaccine becomes effective around 10 to 14 days after you have received it, so the earlier you get your vaccine the sooner you will be ready to fight flu this winter.

“If you are 16 years old or over and not in one of the eligible groups for the flu immunisation programme, you can still get the vaccine in many high street pharmacies for a small fee.

“It only takes a few minutes to get immunised and it will help to keep you well over the winter.”