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NHS Highland pledge over 'local' Covid-19 booster clinics amid travel concerns in Easter Ross

By Hector MacKenzie

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Pam Dudek: 'Blended approach'.
Pam Dudek: 'Blended approach'.

THE plight of an Easter Ross 81-year-old left languishing on the phone for 40 minutes to find out about a Covid booster jag clinic more than 30 miles away has prompted a pledge for action.

A number of elderly residents in Ross-shire – many who do not drive – were alarmed to receive letters advising of clinics in either Wick or Inverness.

One woman in the Seaboard villages who called the Inverness number given was told she was 52nd in a queue but gave up in distress after 40 minutes.

Tain and District Medical Group has said it will not be able to help with the boosters which are the responsibility of NHS Highland.

Pam Dudek, NHS Highland’s chief executive, acknowledged the concerns. She said: “We are working on improved communications with regards to the vaccination programme. We will shortly be issuing more locally based information for the public.

"In the meantime, where people wish to travel to Inverness or Wick to central clinics on the back of an invite offering that option, you are entitled to do so. We are however working on a schedule of more local clinics, recognising that for many centralised clinics is not a reasonable option.

“Our vaccination programme will run into January, with vulnerable groups being prioritised. We are working to a tight timescale with more vaccinations that need to be delivered than our previous programme, so the conditions are very different.

“GPs are not obliged to provide vaccination and do so contractually based on their own set of circumstances and workloads, so this does make for a variable programme of delivery. We absolutely need this blended approach to ensure that we, along with our general practice colleagues, are able to cover the breadth of health and care requirements alongside the vaccination programme.

"We understand how confusing this can be for people and are taking measures to try to ensure our messages are clear and tailored to your local area. Everyone who is eligible will get their vaccination and we would ask for patience now as we roll out this extensive programme.

“We are also taking steps to urgently review and improve our telephone line recognising the high volume of calls received and some of the challenges people have had using it.”

Councillor Derek Louden: Call for action.
Councillor Derek Louden: Call for action.

Tain and Easter Ross councillor Derek Louden said: "No-one in their eighties would choose to take a series of buses from Balintore or Portmahomack or Fearn or Milton to get to Smithton or Wick and then repeat the exercise on the way back. With the changes in bus timetables it might not even be possible to do this in a day."

He has been briefed by NHS Highland and says he understands local clinics will be organised.

Tain and District Medical Group said that for the last two years, both practices in Tain have “opted-in” to helping provide annual flu and Covid jags.

It said: "With the winter season coming up both practices have had to think about whether we can continue to provide these vaccinations due to the increase in patients needing to be seen with the usual winter ailments. Whilst we have agreed to opt-in to helping with the annual flu vaccine programme, both practices feel that we are unable to help this time with the Covid booster vaccinations."

The vaccine rollout has been a challenge.
The vaccine rollout has been a challenge.

The booster is the Pfizer vaccine that requires patients to remain for 15 minutes for observation before leaving, unlike the Astra Zeneca jag. That would mean blocking off surgery rooms for patients to wait in and reduce the amount of space for GPs, practice nurses and other professionals to see patients face to face.

The group says it has given over 3200 Covid vaccinations, which is over 80 per cent of the target groups.

It is inviting over 2100 patients for flu jags.

It said: "We are still awaiting information from NHS Highland as to how they will provide the Covid boosters for our patients and as soon as we hear will share this information on our Facebook pages and websites. Patients can also phone the vaccination enquiry hub on 01463 705531 or email them on nhsh.covidvaccine@nhs.scot"

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