Patients' frustration over vaccine communications as roll-out continues
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As the immunisation effort stepped up a gear yesterday – with the roll-out extended to the over-70s on the same day Lancashire’s first mass vaccination centre opened in Blackburn – some are still in the dark over when they will be offered the jab.
The Gazette has been contacted by several people concerned they or loved ones may have fallen through the gaps as the vaccination programme gathers pace.
In response, Dr Neil Harley-Smith, clinical director for the Fylde Coast clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) said: “While we are asking all individuals in the priority groups to be patient, it should not be very long at all before those in the top priority groups are contacted by the NHS to book an appointment.”
Sharon Norton was among those to get in touch with her concerns.
The 60-year-old owns TSJ newsagents on Hardhorn Way, Poulton, with her husband Tom. She was concerned about her mum, Flo Hammill, 82, from Fleetwood, who had not yet received any information about her vaccine, including where she would be able to get it, or when.
Sharon and Tom, who have both already had coronavirus, said Mrs Hammill was worried she could possibly be missed off a list of eligible vaccine recipients due to a clerical error, or would miss a phone call from her doctor, potentially affecting her vaccine date.
Mrs Norton said: “My mum is getting so anxious about it. She’s isolated, she’s sat on her own every evening, and she’s seeing all of her friends have their vaccine.
“But she doesn’t know whether she’s on someone’s list, or she isn’t.
“Whenever we’ve contacted our surgery, West View Surgery in Fleetwood, we’ve been told she’ll be notified when it’s her turn and she’ll be on a priority list. They can’t give us any more information.
“But it’s not hard to make an admin mistake, is it? How is she supposed to know whether she is definitely on a list?”
Olive Moore, 81, from Blackpool, said she had been offered an appointment before Christmas, which was later cancelled.
Several weeks later, she was still waiting for a rescheduled date for her jab.
“I phoned my GP who assured me I was on a list,” she said.
“I sent an email to the health (organisation) who were dealing with the logistics. No reply.”
She said her doctors’ surgery has been unable to tell her when she will be able to get her vaccination despite people in neighbouring towns in lower priority groups already being invited for theirs.
She added: “Every life matters – not just if you are in then right post code.”
The Gazette contacted local health chiefs about the concerns, to ask for more information about how lists of eligible vaccine recipients were created, to reassure readers who were scared they would be missed off.
Health chiefs were also asked why some surgeries had not yet supplied any vaccines, or were unable to inform their patients of when they could expect to receive theirs, and where they would be asked to go.
They were unable to provide the information requested, but instead reiterated that if people are registered with a GP, they will be contacted using the contact information the practice has on record.
A spokesman added: “Groups of GP practices are working through their list of patients and some areas have more patients in the eligible category than others so it may take more time.
“We understand people are both keen and anxious to get vaccinated as soon as possible, but please let us reassure you it won’t be long at all before people in the top priority groups are contacted by the NHS to book their appointment to receive their vaccination.”
Dr Harley-Smith added: “We expect the pace of vaccination to increase significantly over the coming days and weeks, as vaccines supplies allow. This will also mean vaccination can be extended to other priority groups recommended as supplies increase.
“Our ambition, if supplies allow, is to have offered vaccines to the most vulnerable 13 million people by the middle of February.
“You will be contacted directly by letter or phone and so you don’t need to do anything to register your eligibility.”
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson has warned the UK is still in a “pretty precarious” position as ministers prepare for the easing of lockdown restrictions from early March.
The Prime Minister said the process would be gradual, with no great “open sesame” moment when curbs on freedoms are suddenly lifted.
He said decisions on loosening England’s stay-home order will be made based on progress in the vaccination programme, which had been “very encouraging” despite concerns that some parts of the nation are falling behind.
More than four million people in the UK have received a first coronavirus vaccine dose.
The Government is on track to vaccinate around 15 million high-priority people across the UK by February 15, including health and social care staff, the elderly and people in care homes.
Once those vaccines have taken effect, around two to three weeks later ministers will consider whether lockdown measures can be eased.
Mr Johnson, on a visit to the manufacturing facility for the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine, said: “I understand completely that people want to get back to normal as fast as we possibly can. It does depend on things going well.
“It depends on the vaccination programme going well, it depends on there being no new variants that throw our plans out and we have to mitigate against, and it depends on everybody, all of us, remembering that we’re not out of the woods yet.”