A PENSIONER with chronic lung problems and walking difficulties has described the rollout of flu jags this year as "absolutely shocking" after discovering that she would have to catch four separate buses to get to and from her vaccination hub.

Helene Fitzgerald, 68, cancelled her appointment at Maryhill Health Centre in Glasgow for October 17 because the journey would require two buses there and another two back.

The winter flu vaccination programme is being organised by health boards rather than GPs for the first time this year, using venues such as town halls, health centres and football stadiums to enable social distancing.

However, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde says it is now working with community pharmacies "to provide local alternatives" after hearing concerns about public transport and travel to hubs.

Mrs Fitzgerald, who has lived for 30 years in her ground floor flat in Yorkhill, said: "Every other year I've gone to my GP surgery, which is 50 yards from my house. I need help to walk and usually I would go there on a mobility scooter.

"This year I got a letter telling me I had to go for my flu injection in Maryhill. I realised it was going to take me four buses and a lot of walking - it was going to be impossible.

"I'm extra vulnerable because I have a heart and lung disease. I was normally one of the first invited in at my GP surgery because they do it in order of priority.

"If I caught flu and Covid together it would be a death sentence for me. It's absolutely shocking."

Mrs Fitzgerald said she was ready to "give up" and go without the jag this year when, after days of trying, she eventually got through on the helpline.

She was initially rebooked to attend Drumchapel Health Centre on November 17, one bus ride from her home, but has since been given an earlier appointment on October 29 in Partick, which she can get to and from on her mobility scooter.

The community activist, who has severe COPD and heart problems, normally uses the NHS patient transport service to travel to and from hospital appointments in the city but was told these could not be used for travel to vaccination hubs.

"They're just making our lives ridiculous," said Mrs Fitzgerald.

"I don't imagine patient transport is particularly busy right now."

Research has shown that patients who contract the coronavirus and flu at the same time are twice as likely to die compared to those with Covid alone.

Charity Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland, said it has been contacted by several patients with heart and lung problems this year worried about delays in getting their flu jag.

Allan Cowie, the charity's director of services at Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland, said: “It’s more important than ever that people get their flu vaccine. Flu is serious and can be life threatening.

“We understand that the health service is under considerable strain right now, and this needs fixed urgently."


NHS GGC has faced criticism after the Herald revealed it was issuing appointments for the over-65s cohort using the Scottish Immunisation and Recall System (SIRS), which prioritises the youngest first.

As a result 65-year-olds were being called first while those in their 80s and 90s faced waiting until the end of November to be immunised.

The Scottish Government said this was "not acceptable" and has ordered the health board, from now on, to prioritise the oldest first.

The health board said it is accelerating the distribution of appointment letters and that all over-65s would receive their letter by the end of October.

NHS GGC said it is has also increased capacity at several of the regional vaccination centres so that "those in the 75-plus age group can have the opportunity to be vaccinated sooner”.


A spokeswoman added that there are also "ongoing discussions in some areas to explore potential opportunities for further utilisation of GPs and greater use of community pharmacies".

It comes as NHS Lanarkshire, which has also been using the SIRS system, apologised for "challenges" this year, including jammed phone lines and appointment letters arriving after appointment dates.

The letters are dispatched centrally, by a contractor working on behalf of NHS National Services Scotland.

Associate Medical Director, Dr Mark Russell, said these issues are "being resolved", additional call handlers are being hired, and the health board is "looking at different ways to contact patients, not just by letter".

In relation to SIRS, Dr Russell added: “Since it is a national system, we are limited with the changes we can make to existing processes.

"However, we are exploring local alternatives to target the higher risk groups in the over 65 cohort of patients and are already contacting these people."