A north-east MSP has warned vulnerable people are at risk of being “left behind” after experiencing problems accessing supermarket delivery slots.
A text message service was rolled out to help those most at risk sign up for priority deliveries – but many received no response.
Aberdeenshire West MSP Alexander Burnett wrote to ministers to raise the issue – and three weeks later, a “historic problem” with mobile operator EE was blamed.
In one case, a woman suffering from anxiety gave up trying to get delivery slots due to the lack of response to her text message registration.
She received a shielding letter at the start of April, containing her CHI number which allows access to weekly grocery deliveries and priority supermarket delivery slots.
But the lack of response to her texts was blamed on EE blocking the SMS number provided in the letter.
Mr Burnett said: “Many of my vulnerable constituents are now reliant on volunteer groups to do their grocery shopping as they have been unable to register or secure a delivery slot from any supermarket.
“In one particular case, a woman with anxiety is afraid to use volunteer groups who only accept cash.
“She now tells me that she has no choice but to give up and come out of isolation and do her own shopping.
“We are now weeks into this public health crisis, yet the SNP still hasn’t managed to ensure the most vulnerable are getting the support they need.
“Blaming mobile networks weeks later is unacceptable.
“The UK Government simply passed its list on to supermarkets, which allowed them to prioritise delivery slots for those who needed them most.
“At this time of crisis, we have to look after every person in need and can’t leave anyone behind.”
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In a response to Mr Burnett, the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 shielding for the clinically high-risk team said: “It sounds as though these people may have been affected by a historic problem with the EE mobile network.
“Unfortunately, EE mistakenly blocked the SMS number, which meant that for a period EE customers were unable to send texts to the number.
“We were recently able to obtain from EE a list of the mobile numbers of its customers who tried to text the service during its block, so that we can invite them to try to register again if they have not already done so.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “For those who are facing the highest clinical risks, we have worked with the main supermarkets so that they can prioritise delivery slots for those who are shielding.
“People who don’t have access to a mobile phone can request these priority slots through their local authority and anyone who is at increased risk but not part of the shielded category and who has no family or community support should phone our national phone line on 0800 111 4000.
“We set up the phone line last week so those in this wider vulnerable group can access help for their essential needs. No other part of the UK has done this.
“In April the Deputy First Minister wrote to all MSPs providing further information to assist them in responding to queries or issues from their constituents.”
An EE spokesman said: “We’re sorry that a small number of text messages sent to those on the Scottish Government’s shielding registration list weren’t able to get through at the start of April.
“Once made aware, we immediately fixed the issue and would like to reassure customers that the messages have now been passed on to the helpline.”