Nicola Sturgeon has insisted there is no wider issue with Scotland’s vaccination programme, as she apologised for a botched appointment booking that saw an elderly woman collapse with suspected hypothermia.
The first minister faced a grilling over the issue during the Scottish Government’s daily briefing on Monday but insisted “there is nothing going wrong in this (vaccination) programme – on the contrary, it is going really well”.
Hundreds of vulnerable people in their 70s were left standing outside for hours in the snow and ice after an “IT error” led to appointments in Fife being double booked at community vaccination centres in Kirkcaldy, Lochgelly, Buckhaven and Glenrothes.
A number of elderly residents were told to go home and book a new slot as temperatures plummeted, and one woman was reported to have collapsed with suspected hypothermia in Lochgelly after queuing up for the jab.
NHS Fife chief executive Carol Potter branded the situation “entirely unacceptable” and apologised to those affected but it comes just months after the health board promised to learn lessons from its “shambolic” flu vaccination programme last year.
The scenes were mirrored in Dundee city centre as hundreds were forced to queue for about an hour as extra vaccinators were drafted in to deal with a bottleneck.
‘Problems unique to Fife’
But Ms Sturgeon was resolute in her defence of the vaccination programme and asked members of the public to keep in mind the scale of the task at hand in rolling out the life-saving jabs across Scotland.
“As far as I’m aware, the problems that were experienced by some people in Fife yesterday are unique to Fife,” she said.
“Now that is not to say that there might not be similar issues in a programme of this scale that pop up in other health boards from time to time.
“I’m not going to stand here and tell you that everything is going to be perfect all the time but yesterday there was a particular issue in Fife because it was migrating on to the Service Now platform that all mainland boards are going to be on by the end of this week.
“That led to a bit of a rebooking issue that meant some of their clinics were effectively double-booked, which meant some appointment slots were too short and people were queuing when they shouldn’t have been, and obviously, given the weather conditions yesterday, that was particularly regrettable.”
She continued: “I don’t expect people not to feel annoyed when these things happen because ideally they shouldn’t happen, and that’s why an apology is right.
“But I would ask everybody just to bear in mind how hard health boards are working right now to get this programme delivered as quickly as possible.”
Joining the First Minister today is National Clinical Director, Professor Jason Leitch. https://t.co/d16fwKGfyk
— Scottish Government (@scotgov) February 9, 2021
‘It shouldn’t happen’
The first minister admitted she did not know when those who missed out on a vaccination on Monday would be able to rebook an appointment, although the health board has insisted it has enough doses of the vaccine for the additional patients.
Ms Sturgeon said she had been “inundated” with messages from people who have received the vaccine without any problems.
But she was also asked about reports of people taking ill while standing out in the cold and a particular case where a man had to leave a queue in Buckhaven to take his 76-year-old mum home because she was “freezing”.
The man said he later phoned the vaccination helpline and was told his mother would either need to travel 50 miles to receive the potentially life-saving jab this week or wait “a couple of months” before she can be booked in elsewhere.
“Look, I am really sorry about happened in Fife – NHS Fife are really sorry,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“It shouldn’t happen so the kind of experiences you’ve recounted there, I’m not going to defend.
“I would simply make the point again, not to try to diminish how bad that was for the individual or individuals concerned, this is a massive programme going at 100mph and sometimes there will be glitches in it.”
According to the health board, patients who were unable to be vaccinated on Monday will be contacted directly to reschedule.
It added that any Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccinations would be postponed for the remainder of the week to increase the number of staff available to carry out Covid-19 jags at community clinics.