Elderly asked to travel 'great distances' for COVID vaccine prompts worry

Rory Butler, Local Democracy Reporter

Elderly asked to travel 'great distances' for COVID vaccine prompts worry

Elderly people across Bucks have demanded to know why they are being asked to travel great distances for their COVID vaccination, going directly against advice to 'stay local'.

Confused residents called on Buckinghamshire Council leader Cllr Martin Tett to reassure them against letters they had received from the NHS about the jab, with some being offered to travel as far away as Bristol.

Many who received the letter are over 80 years old and some in questionable health, while others were confused about whether it is safe to leave Buckinghamshire at all.

Part of the latest advice to people evidenced on the new black and orange notices throughout the county is to “stay local.”

The letters were issued after seven mass vaccination centres opened across England, explaining how people can book a slot.

They were sent to people aged 80 or above who live 30 to 45 minutes’ drive from one of the new sites, according to Buckinghamshire Council.

The nearest sites to Bucks are: Epsom racecourse in Surrey, the Excel Centre in London, and Robertson House in Stevenage.

However, Cllr Tett reported some people had been asked to book an appointment at the Ashton Gate Stadium, in Bristol, which is nearly two hours away by car.

“I understand that some Bucks residents are receiving letters from the NHS inviting them to vaccine appointments at mass vaccination centres as far away as Bristol,” wrote Cllr Tett online, on January 9. “@BucksCouncil was unaware of this.”

“Yes, that’s my 90-year-old mother’s experience,” replied someone. “Very unstable and in poor general health – her nearest site today is Epsom.

“Desperate for her to have the vaccine but it’s just further than she can manage even with me taking her.”

Former Wycombe mayor Trevor Snaith said: “Is this because Bucks can’t handle demand locally. How’s the programme going in Bucks?”

“If they get such an invitation, should they go as it’s for medical reasons or not go because they shouldn’t be leaving their area?” asked another resident. 

“Rather reminiscent of #TestAndTrace fiasco, people unable to get tests unless they travelled all over the country – surely not again?” replied a Twitter user.

“These are elderly and vulnerable people, if true it’s unforgivable.”

In response, Cllr Tett said: “Many of our residents have contacted me with concerns after receiving letters from the NHS about their COVID-19 vaccinations. In particular, about travelling outside of the county.

“The letter explains how to book a vaccination slot over the phone or online through the national booking service. The national booking service is in addition to the local systems which our local NHS are putting in place.

“Buckinghamshire residents who have received the letter can, if they wish or are able to, book through the national booking system. However, all people in Buckinghamshire over the age of 80 will still be offered a vaccination appointment locally through their GP practice by the end of January.

“Vaccination sites in Buckinghamshire will be operating by 25th January, with two additional sites going live next week in Aylesbury and High Wycombe – further sites will follow later this month. The NHS is also finalising plans for two mass vaccination sites in the county.”

An NHS spokesperson said: “The seven centres are an additional option for people to get vaccinated if it is convenient for them. If it is not, they can instead be jabbed at one of their local vaccination centres in the coming weeks.”

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