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Call for apology over 'botched' Covid spring booster appointments for Caithness over-75s

By Alan Hendry

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Struan Mackie says the confusion over spring booster appointments 'raises serious questions about NHS Scotland'.
Struan Mackie says the confusion over spring booster appointments 'raises serious questions about NHS Scotland'.

A Thurso councillor has called for Scotland's health secretary to apologise over the "botched" Covid spring booster appointment system which meant some over-75s in Caithness were asked to travel as far as Inverness or Tain for their jabs.

Councillor Struan Mackie accused NHS Scotland of needlessly causing panic and worry to hundreds of people and insisted Humza Yousaf should say sorry to those affected.

NHS Highland has blamed "scheduling and appointing issues" with the national vaccination programme and has given an assurance that anyone asked to attend a vaccine clinic outwith their local area can have it rearranged for a more suitable location.

Caithness Health Action Team (CHAT) said a number of Caithness residents had been "very upset" at receiving booster vaccination invitations for Tain or Inverness and called it "another example of centralisation not working".

Councillor Mackie is the Scottish Conservative and Unionist candidate for the Thurso and Northwest Caithness ward at next month's local government elections.

“The botched handling of the spring booster rollout by NHS Scotland is just another example of how orchestrating healthcare from afar leads to damaging outcomes and upset patients," he said.

“As invitations to attend booster clinics in Tain and Inverness dropped through letterboxes over the last week, my inbox was being inundated with pleas to find alternative arrangements close to home.

“It was troubling to see so many individuals anxious and upset about trying to attend clinics in Easter Ross or Inverness – a stark contrast to earlier rollouts, where jabs were administered at local practices or the many pop-up vaccination clinics that were organised throughout the pandemic.

“Representations were made by local representatives like myself as well as CHAT as the extent of the programme became clear, with the chief executive of NHS Highland called to act on behalf of far north residents.

“While it is a comfort that NHS Highland quickly clarified the position, confirming that local clinics will be made available and that there was no need to travel south for a booster jab, it should not take local interventions to ensure that residents are being directed to local clinics.

“It raises serious questions about NHS Scotland and how it engages with local health boards and what degree of scrutiny is being done before large-scale rollouts like the spring booster programme take place.

“While I am not surprised that Edinburgh-based civil servants are not aware of the distances between settlements in the northern Highlands, it is the national health board's duty to instruct and advise patients on their local options, regardless of where they live in the country. It is, after all, a national health service.

“I am calling on Humza Yousaf, the minister responsible, to apologise to those affected and ensure that the national health board learns lessons from this fiasco."

A spokesperson for Mr Yousaf said: “NHS Highland has apologised for this error and has already taken steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again. As always, the national scheduling team is happy to provide any further support and to share any lessons learned.

“On the rare occasion a mistake is made it is quickly rectified, but to use an error to talk down the efforts of our world-class vaccinators who have helped ensure Scotland currently leads the rest of the UK on first, second and booster doses is very poor form indeed.”

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