Fife was unprepared for massive flu vaccine demand, report concludes

Pic: Jon SavagePic: Jon Savage
Pic: Jon Savage
NHS Fife's annual seasonal flu programme was unprepared for the level of demand it experienced immediately after launch, an official review has concluded.

The programme was overwhelmed by demand from the very start after around 77,000 letters were sent out at once by Public Health Scotland to over-65s across Fife advising them to get vaccinated.

This led to a run on NHS Fife's phone lines, which were not able to cope with the excess requests.

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The scandal prompted a public apology by chair Tricia Marwick, and chief executive Carol Potter.

A review conducted by Dr Gillian MacIntosh, the health board's head of corporate governance, and independent consultant Barbara Anne Nelson has concluded that a lack of clarity over governance, a failure to anticipate the challenges associated with the coronavirus pandemic and a further failure to flag up those challenges were to blame for the problems.

Reports on the upcoming flu programme, delivered just a week before the scheme was to be rolled out, "did not adequately highlight the significant changes to...this year's seasonal flu programme, to make clear this was not 'business as usual'", the review concluded.

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Dr MacIntosh and Ms Nelson also found that NHS Fife "failed to anticipate the considerable demand for appointments" and had failed to properly identify staff who could work on the phone lines due to workers often being allocated to other projects such as the NHS Test and Protect contact tracing scheme.

Patients had also not been readily informed that the way vaccines were being delivered was moving away from GP surgeries towards larger central community sites - a transition that will complete next year.

The review concluded that NHS Fife has accepted it had created "a very difficult situation" that it was willing to learn from.

Tricia Marwick, chair of the health board, says the service has taken stock of the "very honest" report.

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"We were extremely disappointed that it did not go better than it did," she said.

"The review gives us the kind of assurance we need that not only is the programme on track but that lessons have been learned for the Covid-19 vaccination programme.

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