Thousands of Fife’s over-65s have been asked to stop phoning a swamped flu jab hotline to allow staff to deal with a huge backlog of calls. Around 75,000 letters were sent out by NHS Fife to the region’s older patients at the same time but only eight call handlers were employed to deal with demand. The system was set up to deal with 12,000 calls a week but became overloaded by around 1,000 attempts to get through every hour.
A disgruntled patient in St Andrews wrote to QV “We cannot get through on this line to get an appointment. It is always busy, having waited in a queue we were cut off. What is happening here why was this taken away from the GP services. It is a disgrace!”
NHS call handlers are now working through some 2,000 patients who have already tried to get through to book appointments for a vaccination. Many more have attempted to book via email and text message and have been warned it could take days or even weeks to get back to them.
A further 38 staff have now been drafted in and are working extended hours to manage the high volume of calls. Anyone who has already tried to make contact does not need to call back as phone numbers have been logged and calls will be returned. QV understands that the situation has now improved and in some areas, including St Andrews, patients are being offered next day appointments.
NHS Fife chairwoman Tricia Marwick apologised on Wednesday, acknowledging the health board had not been adequately prepared and had let vulnerable people down. Letters were sent out by NHS Scotland rather than GPs this year and Fife’s health chiefs said they had expected them to go in batches rather than all at once.
Those aged under-65 but in high risk groups are advised not phone at all until they receive letters, probably from the end of next week.