THE rollout of flu vaccinations across Greater Glasgow and Clyde has been dubbed an "an absolute shambles" after it emerged that the oldest Scots will receive the jag weeks later than normal, despite being the most likely to die from Covid and influenza.

Brian Sloan, chief executive at Age Scotland, said it has been inundated with calls from people in their 70s and older with health conditions who have yet to receive an appointment letter or are struggling to get through on the helpline.

This is the first winter where health boards have been handed responsibility for delivering the life-saving flu vaccination programme, which was previously handled by GPs.

READ MORE: Why flu vaccinations are being delivered differently this year - and it has nothing to do with Covid

It is being run in conjunction with local authorities who provide council-run facilities to use as vaccination hubs.

NHS GGC has spent £2.2 million transferring the immunisations to health and social care partnerships (HSCPs), but opted to retrofit the system onto software originally designed for childhood vaccinations which prioritises youngest age groups first.

As a result, 65-year-olds are being immunised first, while those in their 90s - who might normally have been vaccinated in early October - could wait until the end of November or even December.

Mr Sloan said: "Many older people tell us they cannot get any information, as the phone lines to the advertised central numbers or their GP are constantly jammed.

"This is causing a lot of frustration and anxiety, with callers saying it is ‘impossible’ to get information or they feel ‘left in limbo’.

"Some have been told they will have to wait till November or December for an appointment, while others have been offered ones that are a considerable distance away.

"Prioritising those in their 60s over older people makes no sense, and could leave the oldest and most vulnerable at risk."

Scottish Labour health spokeswoman, Monica Lennon, said the situation was "a recipe for disaster".

“Older people have been hit hard by the pandemic, and now it appears they’re being put to the back of the queue when it comes to flu vaccination too," she said.

It comes amid increasing coronavirus hospitalisations and cases among the elderly, and repeated messaging from the Scottish Government that it is more important than ever to be protected from flu this winter.

In September, interim deputy chief medical officer, Dr Nicola Steedman, warned that catching both infections at once would be "extremely serious".

Patients with Covid and flu were twice as likely to die, she said, compared to those with Covid alone.

This year, the distribution of appointment letters is being overseen by NHS National Services Scotland, who manage the contract for the external supplier who actually sends them out to patients.

However, a spokeswoman for NSS stressed that it was “up to each health board to determine the order in which each cohort of patients receives their letters”.

She added: “The health boards set up the schedules and we process these through to our supplier for printing and distribution.”

The rollout of flu vaccinations also varies by HSCP area.

For example, over-65s in Lothian – excluding those living in Edinburgh – can still receive the vaccination direct from their GP.

It is unclear how many other health boards are following the childhood immunisation model, but the Herald understands that NHS GGC is not the only one.

GPs remain responsible for vaccinating at risk individuals aged 18 to 64, while pregnant women will be vaccinated by their midwives, and care home residents by social care staff.

Dr John Montgomery, lead GP at the award-winning David Elder Medical Practice in Govan, a ‘Deep End’ surgery that serves one of Scotland’s most deprived communities, said he was worried that the housebound - who are especially vulnerable - will be "quite far down the queue" for vaccination because the district nurses required to delivered it are "swamped".

He said he had also heard of patients, outwith GGC, receiving letters after their appointment date had already passed.

He added: "It’s an absolute shambles. Of all the years we had to be coordinated and organised, and we're not.

"I really feel for patients who are understandably are thinking 'what's going on?’.”

Bob Thomson, 81, from Newton Mearns in East Dunbartonshire, is among those still waiting for an appointment letter, along with his wife aged 77.

In the past 15 years, apart from one year when they were on holiday, the couple have always received the flu vaccine at their GP practice in the first week of October.

None of their friends have received appointment letters either.

Mr Thomson said: "The eldest, the very eldest, are at the end of the line and they ones who are the most vulnerable and the ones that the health minister is saying we have to protect.

"What a shambles. This isn't just incompetence, but sheer neglect.

"It is another care home disaster waiting to happen. The elderly should be vaccinated well before the peak of the flu season."

A 71-year-old woman from Glasgow, who has asthma and takes medication following a stroke, said she realised something was amiss when her husband – who is younger and has no underlying health conditions – received his letter first.

The woman, who did not want to be named, pursued the matter with health board staff who she said had told her the issue was “known about at national level” and would be “fixed for next year”.

“It beggars belief,” she said.

"I haven't met anybody in Glasgow, Lanarkshire, or the west, who's older than me who's had an appointment. They're all younger.

"My mother-in-law when she was alive got flu because she wouldn't get the flu vaccine. She ended up on a life support machine, and I know that's going to happen to a lot of people this year.

"And it's going to happen to the people who are oldest and frailest.

"Every week that goes by, more people will die because of this.”

Flu transmission tends to peak from December to February, but public health experts say rates could be naturally curtailed this year due to increased hygiene and social distancing ass a result of Covid.

In the southern hemisphere, where winter has just ended, flu cases and deaths were much lower than in previous years. 

A spokeswoman for NHS GGC said: "We understand that people who are yet to receive their appointment letter may have concerns and we would like to reassure those in the 65+ age group that they will receive it in the next three-five weeks.

"NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, along with a number of other Scottish Board, have utilised the Scottish Immunisation recall System (SIRS) to offer appointments for this year’s flu vaccination.

"One of the characteristics of the system is it was designed for the vaccination of school children and schedules appointments from the youngest to the oldest. 

"However, this system will still offer all over 65’s in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area an appointment before the flu season begins at the end of November."