Causes of Covid booster chaos revealed

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The causes of the problems that plagued Argyll’s covid booster rollout have been revealed by Highland health chiefs.

Fiona Davies, the interim chief officer of the area’s Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP), has apologised for ‘a considerable number of errors’.

The HSCP has been in charge of the rollout for the booster jags, with GP practices having overseen the process for the initial two vaccines.

The problems were caused by this move from a GP-led model to a board-led one, NHS Highland’s director of public health and policy Dr Tim Allison told the HSCP’s integration joint board on November 24.

NHS Highland non-executive board member Graham Bell asked: ‘Can you tell us why it has been such a difficult administrative task, and what is being done about it?’

Dr Allison responded: ‘There are several reasons. One is the move from GP administration to board administration, which is part of the national direction of travel.

‘The whole of NHS Highland is behind the curve in that. The arrangements we have had are for vaccines to be delivered in general practice through board clinics on the mainland and islands.

‘Things do also happen fairly quickly and get changed fairly quickly, and it can be difficult to accommodate some of those changes.

‘By and large, it is really adapting to new systems and getting a whole new system set up.

‘Clearly the situation is not good, but it has improved and once people get to clinics, it is not universally great, but by and large things are OK. Many of the problems are with the scheduling of appointments.’

Ms Davies added: ‘What became obvious weeks ago was that appointing people by letter was not having an effect. Letters were not getting to people promptly enough.

‘So we tried to bring in a system of phone appointments in the local area, and that seems to have improved communication on who needs to go to which clinics.

‘That is quite a challenge for us to organise at short notice, and to have the number of people making calls so we need to learn how to build in the capacity for this.’

The next day’s meeting of Argyll and Bute Council heard residents in the region were offered booster Covid vaccine appointments over 150 miles away in Inverness and Elgin.

Ms Davies said: ‘We are now in the seventh position with the route of delivery in Argyll and Bute and I want to thank our vaccination teams for delivering such a large amount. Many people have had their vaccine ahead of schedule.

‘Hopefully, when we get into the further tranches of delivery, we will move on to the portal system which is being trialled.’

NHS Highland gave guidance on use of the electronic portal system, which was launched on November 15.

It said: ‘Due to the unique geography across NHS Highland and our blended model of vaccinations, we are recommending you only use the portal if your GP is not participating in the Covid-19 vaccination programme.

‘If you live in Argyll and Bute, your GP Practice will invite you for your flu vaccine and the Health and Social Care Partnership will invite you for your Covid-19 booster/third dose.

‘If you are registered with a practice in Bute, Coll, Colonsay, Islay, Jura or Tiree your GP Practice will contact you for both vaccines.’