NHS Lanarkshire officials say they are “working to rectify challenges” with this year’s new flu programme, but say they are on track to vaccinate all eligible patients before the end of November.
Additional call handlers have been brought for busy phone lines as patients rebook appointments; with the health board having apologised this week after some patients only received their notification letters after the date had passed.
The health board is also working to prioritise higher-risk patients aged over 65 – and are again stressing that there are no drop-in clinics in Lanarkshire and that people should not turn up without confirmed appointments.
This year’s seasonal flu programme is described as “the largest ever undertaken in NHS Lanarkshire and a new way of working for everyone involved”, and has seen 43,000 patients vaccinated in the past four weeks.
Dr Mark Russell, who is associate medical director with Health and Social Care North Lanarkshire, said: “The programme will take longer than other years to deliver, but our plan is to deliver all vaccinations before the end of November and we are on track to achieve this.
“We know there have been a number of challenges with delivering the programme and we are working to rectify these; as we address these, we are confident that the solutions we have in place will help vaccinate more people as quickly and safely as possible.
“Appointments are being allocated using the nationally-based Scottish immunisation and recall system; we are limited with the changes we can make to existing processes, but are exploring local alternatives to target higher-risk groups in the over-65 cohort of patients and are already contacting these people.”
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Dr Russell stressed: “We would also like to clarify that NHS Lanarkshire is not running drop-in clinics this year, as we need to manage the number of people at each.
“Some clinics have been set up at short notice and people notified by text, but everyone still had an appointment. Please do not turn up at a flu clinic without an appointment.
He continued: “We understand people are anxious about when they will receive their flu vaccination and would like to apologise for any frustration or concern the phased delivery of appointment letters has caused.
“A number of patients received their letter after their scheduled appointment and we would like to apologise for the frustration this has caused – there have been issues with the national booking and postal systems and these are being resolved.
“Due to the large volume of calls, we are increasing the number of call handlers on our rebooking line. However, we are asking for people’s patience and support to help manage the number of calls.
“We are receiving a high number of enquiries from members of the public about this year’s flu campaign, specifically about when they will receive their letters – unfortunately, we cannot provide details of individual appointments as this is done nationally.
“However, we will be issuing information in the coming weeks on what to do if people haven’t received their letter, and as the programme progresses we are looking at different ways to contact patients, not just by letter.
“We know there is still a way to go, but would like to offer reassurance that there is still ample time to vaccinate everyone who is eligible before the flu season starts later in the year.”
Local information about the flu vaccination programme is available on the health board’s website.