CONCERNS surrounding “a number of issues” with the booster vaccine appointments system in East Lothian have been heard in the Scottish Parliament.

A bus, launched by East Lothian Health and Social Care Partnership (ELHSCP), was to be used as a drop-in service in rural areas.

In the first four days of its operation, more than 800 people attended the bus, which provides Covid-19 boosters and flu jabs for ‘priority groups’ – but problems have already been encountered.

People faced lengthy queues in Gullane and had to wait for hours to receive their booster vaccine.

Further complications were experienced in Dunbar, as the drop-in arrangements were scrapped in favour of appointments only. That saw some residents in need of a booster being turned away.

Craig Hoy, South Scotland MSP, highlighted the problems at First Minister’s Questions in Holyrood.

Mr Hoy said: “My constituent Norma from Dirleton received her booster vaccine some time ago, but yesterday received a fourth letter calling out for a jab. She has been unable to cancel the appointment.

“But her 88-year-old neighbour has received no vaccine booster correspondence and she too has faced problems getting through on the appointment line.

“And despite attending a mobile vaccine bus twice last Thursday in Gullane, she had to leave due to the length of the queues.

“So will the Deputy First Minister urgently look into the ongoing problems in the vaccine booster scheme across the Lothians?”

Deputy First Minister John Swinney offered an apology to those who had suffered issues with the booster programme in East Lothian and admitted that “they should never have experienced that”.

The SNP minister said: “There have been a number of issues in relation to NHS Lothian in connection with the appointments system, with which we are familiar.

“Our officials met with the chief executive of NHS Lothian earlier this week to discuss these very practical issues which Mr Hoy raises with me.”

Some over-70s and immunosuppressed residents of the county have been asked to wait until mid-December to receive their booster vaccine in East Lothian, despite previously receiving assurances that they would receive their jab by the middle of November, and many others have yet to receive any booster appointment at all.

Following the meeting, Mr Hoy said: “I am glad that John Swinney has admitted that there are issues with the booster programme in East Lothian.

“Sadly, that won’t come as news to the many East Lothian residents who have contacted me in the past few weeks about the problems they have faced.

“It was correct that he apologised to East Lothian residents for this as it simply hasn’t been good enough.

“But residents need action and not hollow words from ministers.”

Pat Wynne, nurse director of primary and community care, NHS Lothian, said: “East Lothian Health and Social Care Partnership and NHS Lothian apologise to patients who have been inconvenienced by changes made to the timetable for the vaccine bus and we would like to assure patients that these decisions are not taken lightly.

“To date, across Lothian over 163,293 boosters and 209,428 flu vaccines have been delivered.

“Alongside our partners, we apologise to patients if they have been kept waiting either at a clinic or for an appointment and reassure them that we are doing everything possible to address any issues that have been identified.

“This is a highly complex and fast-paced programme which is being managed alongside the continued rollout of both first and second doses of the Covid vaccine.

“Appointment letters for any remaining people aged 70 and over who were due either their flu vaccine, their booster or both vaccines recently landed on doorsteps across Lothian, with appointments taking place during the last two weeks in November. The final group of invite letters for those aged 60-69 will be issued this week, with appointments taking place during November and December.

“The national online booking portal for those aged 50-59, unpaid and young carers, and household contacts of immunosuppressed individuals opened on Monday, with appointments across Lothian being available to book. Patients are being urged to keep their appointment once booked, but if they cannot attend they can reschedule by calling the national vaccination helpline on 0800 030 8013.”