COVID-19: Letters inviting elderly people to get vaccine delayed after 'mailing issue'

13 January 2021, 17:09 | Updated: 13 January 2021, 18:11

Letters inviting people to get the COVID-19 jab were delayed in the North East, raising concerns about the management of the all-important vaccination booking process.

Sky News has learned that some vaccine letters sent to elderly people in the region did not arrive as expected on Friday 8 January.

The error was discovered when staff at NHS Digital realised no-one was booking appointments at Centre for Life, the mass vaccination site in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

A spokesperson for the NHS in the North East and Yorkshire confirmed that some letters had been delayed, but said that the Centre for Life had appointments booked from Monday, when mass vaccination sites opened.

It is not known how many people were affected.

The news comes after Labour MPs complained on social media that their constituents had not received invitations.

Wes Streeting MP said: "Delays have been so bad - because COVID is knocking out staff - that I am worried about them arriving."

Vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi said he would work with Royal Mail to fix the problem, but a spokesperson for the postal service told Sky News it came from a third-party supplier employed by the NHS to handle the invites.

"Due to a delay in the mailing in question reaching us, letters from NHSE (NHS England) were received into the Royal Mail network on Saturday 9 January," they said.

"Royal Mail are supporting NHSE with additional resources to process and deliver these items as quickly as possible."

An NHS spokesperson said letters would arrive "a day later than planned".

The news has given fresh urgency to calls for more data to be provided about the vaccination rollout. The government releases national figures, but no local figures are made available.

Sky News has seen a "Primary Care Communications Pack" sent by the Hampshire and Isle of Wight partnership of CCGs, which tells GPs in the area: "DON'T refer to numbers at this stage."

The note says: "This can be frustrating but there is clear national direction on this."

It adds: "The objective is to avoid having multiple sources of data running at the same time, which can all be picked up and potentially seen as conflicting with other sources."

Local media on the Isle of Wight has reported recently that letters inviting islanders to have their vaccination may be delayed, but no data is available on the scale of uptake in the area.

Asked this weekend when local vaccination numbers would be made available, NHS head Sir Simon Stevens said it would be provided "within the next week or 10 days", but experts have called for figures to be published immediately to boost public confidence.

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Anna Powell-Smith, head of data non-profit The Centre for Public Data, told Sky News: "This shows why we need more data about the vaccination rollout to be published at local level.

"We need transparent, timely reporting on the progress reaching priority groups in each area, and on vaccines supplied and administered."

"Better data will help identify any local issues quickly, and support public confidence in the rollout."