Nicola Sturgeon has apologised after pensioners were forced to queue in freezing temperatures only to miss out on coronavirus vaccinations because appointments had been “double booked”.
The First Minister said she was “really sorry” that a “glitch” with NHS Fife’s booking system overallocated appointments at five vaccination centres across the health board area on Monday.
An elderly woman was reported to have collapsed due to suspected hypothermia while queuing in the cold in Lochgelly, according to Scottish Labour MSP Alex Rowley.
Asked about the issues at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing, Ms Sturgeon said: “I’m really sorry about what happened in Fife, (NHS) Fife are really sorry – it shouldn’t happen.”
She explained that the problems arose after NHS Fife began using a new booking system that will be rolled out across all mainland health boards by the end of the week.
“That led to a bit of a rebooking issue that meant that some of their clinics were effectively double-booked, which meant 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,” Ms Sturgeon said.
The First Minister admitted she did not know when those who missed out on a vaccination yesterday 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 understood patients would feel “annoyed” by the problems, but urged people to “just bear in mind health how hard health boards are working right now to get this programme delivered as quickly as possible”.
She added: “These teams out there are performing a monumental task right now and they’re doing it really well.
“So if things go wrong on any given day – as I’m afraid, from time to time, they might – we are sorry about that, but we are trying to do this as quickly, as fast and as efficiently as we possibly can.”
Responding to an Urgent Question at Holyrood from Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie about the problems, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman revealed a total of 5,006 patients were vaccinated in Fife on Monday.
Neither NHS Fife nor Ms Freeman have been able to say how many patients had to be turned away.
Mr Rennie, the MSP for North East Fife, said: “It is wholly unacceptable for people over the age of 70, many who have not been out of their house for months, to be left waiting in sub-zero conditions for hours on end.”
Ms Freeman replied: “I don’t want for one second to diminish the upset and the difficulty and the concern experienced by those yesterday who turned up to be vaccinated, who were waiting in the cold, and who were not in the end vaccinated – that will have been a very distressing experience indeed.
“But to everyone else, I want to say: in a national programme that is vaccinating four and a half million people, that is now going at pace, faster than elsewhere in the UK, it is bound to be the case that … there will be glitches, and there will be problems.”
NHS Fife’s chief executive Carol Potter has also issued a statement describing the queues faced by mostly elderly patients as “entirely unacceptable”.
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.
Ms Potter said: “I want to offer our most sincere apologies to those who had to wait in significant queues at some of our community vaccination clinics today.
“This was entirely unacceptable and we are working with our colleagues in NHS National Services Scotland to understand how this scheduling error occurred and ensure that it does not happen again.
“We know that local people are incredibly keen to get vaccinated as quickly as possible against Covid-19 and we have prioritised prompt actions to expand the capacity and quicken the flow of patients through our clinics.
“Patients who could not be vaccinated today will be contacted directly and will be offered a rescheduled appointment as quickly as possible.
“The residents of Fife have shown a great deal of patience and understanding today, and we want to thank local people for the incredible support they have offered us over recent months.
“I also want to thank our vaccination teams for the additional effort required this week to ensure that we minimise any disruption to our vaccination programme.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Yesterday there were 6,008 vaccination appointments booked for a total of 5,228 slots and in total 5,006 vaccinations were given.
“All those who could not be vaccinated yesterday will be called directly by NHS Fife staff to arrange a new appointment as soon as possible.
“New letters have been prepared overnight for a further 4,500 overbooked appointments for Thursday, Friday and next Monday’s clinics.
“These will be sent by first-class mail today for arrival on Wednesday to reschedule these appointments for Saturday, Sunday or later next week.”