Health chiefs in the north-east have apologised after this year’s flu vaccination programme was beset by problems.
NHS Grampian has admitted it could have done better after some patients eligible for flu jabs opened letters to find their appointments had already passed.
Others reported a phone line set up to help book appointments was constantly engaged.
Problems with the new phone line emerged when people eligible for vaccines began to call to find out about their appointments, leaving the health board struggling to cope.
The health board’s deputy chief executive Adam Coldwells has now apologised for the issues, which he says came about following a change to the way the programme is delivered.
He said: “I would really like to say a heartfelt sorry and apologise to all the people who have been distressed and inconvenienced as a result of the issues with the letters and the phone follow-up.
“The phone line was set up to deal with a small number of cases where patients couldn’t make it to the clinic. It was not designed for the number of people calling about the letters arriving late.
“A lot of people have been ringing the line, quite rightly, because they have not received a letter when they thought they should and we could have communicated better on that.”
He added: “I am sorry people have received letters after the appointment date and we will get that rectified.
“We have been working very closely with Royal Mail to resolve the issues. The problem is a little bit down to both parties, and there is some learning for us to do there.
“I am very sorry for the people who have been messed about.”
Demand for the vaccine has increased since the Scottish Government urged people eligible for the free jab to take up the offer and protect themselves over the winter to help the NHS avoid additional pressure.
New walk-in or drive-through centres have been set up in many areas within local facilities, such as town halls and community hubs, along with outreach programmes to try and ease the strain.
NHS Grampian said it is prioritising vaccines for the over 65s amid the surge in demand.
So far, around 26,000 people have been given their jabs at a rate of around 1,500 per day.
Mr Coldwells said: “We are operating a new system this year and we are on a learning curve. The scale of the change is enormous because we are sending out 330,000 letters. That is around 60% of the population of the north-east.
“It is a huge logistical operation and we have already learned a lot.”
Letters are being sent out over the course of a number of weeks, and Mr Coldwells asked those still waiting for news of their appointments to be patient.
Clinics will be held until December to ensure those most in need are covered.
He said: “If you are in a group which is eligible for a jab, you will receive a letter. We are issuing them over a planned period over the next three weeks.
“We are asking people to wait until they have received their letter rather than calling the phone line.
“People have understandably been ringing because they have thought they should be receiving a letter when in actual fact they are still in the queue to have it sent out in the next few weeks.”
A Royal Mail spokeswoman said: “Royal Mail understands the critical importance of ensuring flu jab appointment letters reach patients on time.
“We have processed millions of similar letters on behalf of NHS Scotland safely, securely and on time. We are working closely with NHS Grampian to ensure that together we minimise the risk of this happening again.
“Royal Mail is working hard to deliver all mail as quickly as possible given coronavirus related absences and necessary social distancing measures in local mail centres and delivery offices.”