Report by Clare McNeill
A flu vaccination booking system is causing frustration in the Borders as many trying to make appointments say they're struggling to get through.Where usually people would book a flu jab via their local GP, due to the coronavirus pandemic, NHS Borders have set up a centralised booking line.Meaning that everyone eligible for a flu jab, which is more than usual as the criteria has been widened for this coming winter, is calling the same number.The health board admitted it underestimated the immediate demand there would be to book appointments as soon as letters were sent out.
75-year-old Mary Hewitt, from Melrose, received a letter, along with her husband who has underlying health issues, on the 21st of September requesting they make an appointment.
She has said the process has been disappointing and frustrating: "Every time I tried it was just a recorded message so I decided to send an email instead and waited for a reply but tried again several times during the week."If you're going to send letters out to 50,000 people you have to have some contingency plans, you don't just say 'we didn't expect this response' that's a bit naive in my book.""6 days later I received a phone call saying we're going to book your appointment, but it was in St Boswells."I asked if we could have it in Melrose because we don't have a car and we didn't feel comfortable using public transport. They said we can't use the Melrose surgery because they can't socially distance but I can't socially distance on a bus or taxi either."I was told I'd be contacted by Friday 9th October, if not earlier but I haven't had anything back."
NHS Borders said: “The flu vaccination programme is very different this year in light of Covid-19 and the increased eligibility, which means that around half of the Borders population are eligible for the free flu vaccination," said the health board.
"As part of the programme our NHS Borders team are vaccinating those aged 65 and over. People in this group have been advised to contact our flu vaccination hub to book their appointment.
"In our first week we received an average of 20,000 call attempts each day and received over 7000 emails."
Since 1st October NHS Borders says its booked appointments for 16,000 people with over 3400 of the slots being made available in the first week. The booking line is open 12 hours a day, 7 days a week.
"If you have emailed us please wait until a member of our team contacts you. Please do not re-email us. There is plenty of time to book and everyone who is eligible will receive their vaccination over the next few months."
Local MSP Christine Grahame has suggested the health board use mobile units to administer flu jabs this year.
"Why aren't we using mobile units as we do for breast screenings? The units are there, and it seems to be an idea that many of the MSPs in here agree with because they've got remote and rural areas too so I've asked NHS Borders to consider using mobile units."
NHS Borders said: "We will regularly review our delivery model and explore modifications that could help to increase uptake across the whole of the Scottish Borders."