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Thurso woman (81) burst into tears on being told vaccine clinic was full... after over an hour in phone queue

By Alan Hendry

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Vaccination clinics are being run by NHS Highland in Thurso, Wick and Dunbeath next week.
Vaccination clinics are being run by NHS Highland in Thurso, Wick and Dunbeath next week.

A woman in her eighties from Thurso was reduced to tears after waiting more than an hour in a phone queue to book Covid booster and flu jabs for herself and her husband – only to be told that all places had been filled.

Margaret Jackson was one of many callers who were left frustrated and stressed after trying to secure appointments for a vaccination clinic being organised by NHS Highland in the town's Royal British Legion club on Thursday of next week.

She and others who found themselves unable to arrange a slot have no idea when there will be another opportunity to be vaccinated locally, although the health board has said the aim is "to arrange more in the future".

Mrs Jackson (81) is a carer for her husband Tom (77), a former Highland councillor. The couple are patients at Thurso's Riverbank Medical Practice.

She received a text just before noon on Tuesday with instructions to phone an Inverness number to make an appointment at the Legion on October 28. Mrs Jackson said she phoned at 1.15pm, joining a queue of 71 people – but, when she got through at 2.30pm, the person taking the call told her the clinic was now full.

“I burst into tears, I was so frustrated," Mrs Jackson said. “I thought I had phoned in plenty of time. However, it didn't work out that way.

“Then she said they were having another meeting and they would maybe see about other clinics.

“I said, 'Where do we go from here?' And she said, 'Are you in Inverness a lot?'

“I said, 'No, we're certainly not in Inverness a lot.' She said, 'There's a clinic there you could come to.'"

Mrs Jackson asked about alternative vaccine sessions in Thurso or Wick and was told nothing had been organised.

"As a full-time carer for my husband since 2010 this caused great stress to me, and I am sure others felt the same after spending so long on the phone without success," Mrs Jackson said.

“One of my neighbours said there were 60 in the queue before him. He actually got an appointment, but he said that she was a bit vague about what clinic he was going to – she didn't seem to be sure.”

She is also concerned about the implications for people's phone bills after waiting so long to get through.

Mr and Mrs Jackson received their first Covid vaccines earlier this year at the Riverbank practice and the second dose at the Legion. “When the clinics were organised there was no problem – we were given a time and that was it," she said. "The first two clinics were perfect."

As well as Thursday's Legion clinic for patients registered at Riverbank, NHS Highland is running Covid booster and flu vaccine sessions for patients of the Riverview practice in Wick at the town's Assembly Rooms on Friday, October 29, and for patients registered at the Dunbeath practice in the community hall in the village on Saturday, October 30.

Details are on the NHS Highland website.

Mrs Jackson said: "Surely someone would have an idea of the number of patients likely to be involved in this exercise and organise clinics to accommodate them.

"I hope NHS Highland will issue appointment times, as so much time and money is wasted on phone calls."

Campaign group Caithness Health Action Team says the problems experienced this week show that the NHS Highland vaccination programme is "broken" and is calling for the army to be brought in.

NHS Highland said yesterday that its vaccination enquiry hub had been affected by a software malfunction which had now been resolved. A spokesperson apologised for the "anxiety and stress" that had been caused.

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