Every effort has been made and will continue to be made to minimise travel times and distances to vaccination centres where that is possible. I know that some residents in areas such as East Lothian have had to travel to central Edinburgh locations and that, for people in some parts of East Lothian, that might be a distance of around 35 miles. However, a new vaccination centre at Queen Margaret University in Musselburgh has opened today, I think. That will be significantly closer and will carry out 4,000 vaccinations in the next week.
If someone is offered an appointment at a location that is not suitable for them due to mobility issues, an underlying condition or any other factor, an alternative location will be offered wherever possible, and a national booking line is in place for rescheduling appointments. Calls to the line can be passed to NHS Lothian’s local call handlers to arrange appointments locally.
People understand how big a challenge the programme is. They appreciate the efforts of those who are delivering it, and they are willing to go to great lengths to be vaccinated, but the lengths that they are being asked to go to are rather more than the First Minister appears to believe. In East Lothian, many constituents who live in Dunbar or North Berwick have been asked to travel past not one but two vaccination hubs in East Lothian to go to the Edinburgh International Conference Centre or, even worse, the Royal Highland showground, which is a round trip of about 80 miles, involving two or three bus journeys or a return taxi fare of about £120.
When people phone the helpline, they are routinely and repeatedly told that nothing can be done and that no closer appointments are available. Meanwhile, they hear stories of Midlothian residents being sent to Haddington in East Lothian for their vaccination. We have the whole roll-out of second doses still to come. Will the First Minister intervene and sort this out?
We will continue to try to get the right balance between local accessibility and speed of the programme. Rightly, we have been under pressure to speed up the programme, notwithstanding the reasons for the phasing of it in the early days, and it is now motoring.
I appreciate that some people—particularly as we go down the age groups—will be asked to travel a bit further, but local health boards will be as flexible as possible, and health and social care partnerships should be offering to help with transport when somebody has to travel a bit more. The new centre in Musselburgh that I mentioned is an example of how we are trying to make the programme more accessible.
The arrangements will never be perfect for people, because we are trying to vaccinate the entire adult population as quickly as possible. Most of the people who contact me recognise that but, equally, we recognise that we need to make sure that people are not being asked to travel inordinate distances or being put in a position in which it is genuinely impractical for them to attend a vaccination appointment. The flexibility and input of local health boards is extremely important in that regard. We continue to try to get the arrangements as right as we can.
I will end this answer by saying that the programme is going really well, notwithstanding some of the issues that we see, which we will undoubtedly continue to see in some areas with a programme of such a scale. There are people right across the country who are working so hard to get through people as quickly as possible. Of course, people enthusiastically turning up for their appointments is also a critical part of the success of the programme so far.