COVID-19: Clinically vulnerable can now book vaccines and £190m funding will enhance healthcare services

  • People in NI who received a shielding letter because they are Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV) to Covid-19 will be able to book their vaccination appointments, the Department of Health has announced.

    The appointments will be available at the seven regional vaccination centres across the province.

    Telephone booking will be available from next week. Some slots for the weekend are already available for online booking from today.

    Production of the shielding letters will be required at the centres to confirm eligibility.

    Northern Ireland’s vaccination programme is rolling out through a twin track approach involving the regional vaccination centres and GP practices.

    GPs are vaccinating those aged 70 plus, while the vaccination centres are also vaccinating 65 to 69 year olds.

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    Health Minister Robin Swann said: “I am sure this news will be very welcome to all those who are Clinically Extremely Vulnerable and have been looking forward to getting vaccinated.

    “A start has already been made on the CEV category and offering booked appointments will help to accelerate this.

    “I would again appeal to everyone to be patient – whether that’s waiting on the line to book your vaccination appointment by telephone or waiting your turn in the vaccination programme.

    “We will get to everyone – the programme is steadily advancing and is making good progress.”

    People aged 65-69 urged to book vaccine

    People aged between 65 and 69 across Northern Ireland have been urged to book their Covid-19 vaccination appointments without delay.

    Online and telephone booking for this age group were introduced late last month, with a surge of initial bookings made.

    Demand has understandably slowed since then, and Patricia Donnelly, head of the vaccination programme, said: “We suspect some people may have been put off by the initial surge of demand, and may have concluded that it would be too difficult to get an appointment for their jab anytime soon.

    “That is certainly not the case now, and we would encourage everyone eligible to book as soon as possible. This is your chance to get important protection from the virus.”

    RELATED: Vaccination phone booking line for NI 65-69 year-olds now open

    It is being stressed that the telephone booking system should not be misused and abuse of staff handling the calls or at the vaccination centres will not be tolerated.     

    “Unfortunately, there have been some instances of people who are not eligible for the jab phoning up to try to get an appointment. Some become abusive when they are informed that they cannot book. This is unacceptable behaviour and it must stop.

    “I am concerned that misuse of the telephone booking system is making it harder for people who are eligible to get through – and putting them off making that all important appointment.

    “We are also seeing cases of some people double booking – by telephone and online. This is taking appointments from others.

    “Please turn up when you have made an appointment. Please don’t phone up if you are not eligible – you won’t get a booking. And please be courteous to staff on the telephone lines.

    “I fully understand people are anxious to get the protection that the vaccines offer. Let me assure everyone that we are rolling out the vaccination programme as quickly as we can. While it is not a race, I believe our progress to date would be the envy of many other countries.

    “Our rate of progress is limited by the availability of supplies. Further vaccine supplies will come and you will get your jab. Please be patient.”

    £175m to be spent in this financial year on PPE supplies

    Health Minister Swann also this week welcomed the reallocation of funding to help boost PPE stocks and enable capital projects to move forward.

    The reallocation of funding has been made possible due to a concession by Treasury to waive the normal budgeting treatment for Covid PPE stock this year.

    Minister Swann said the changes will allow the Department of Health to "spend £175m in this financial year on PPE supplies that can be used in the 2021/22 financial year.”

    Consumables such as PPE are normally counted as expenditure as they are used.  The concession in relation to Covid PPE will allow stocks of PPE to build and to overlap financial years.

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    The Minister continued: “PPE is essential for protecting our staff and patients and this year more than ever it is vital that we continue to build on our stocks.  The move by Treasury will allow my Department to spend the money in the 2020/21 financial year to boost supplies for later use.  This will be significant in dealing with the cost consequences of the pandemic.” 

    The new funding comes from unallocated funding currently available to the Executive. The Department of Health had previously returned £90m of Covid-19 funding as the budgeting rules had prevented it from being spent on PPE at that time.

    The Minister added: “This year’s health budget was boosted significantly by special emergency Covid allocations.

    “These allocations were hugely welcome and important. But non-recurrent – one-off – allocations do not provide a basis for addressing the major structural problems afflicting health and social care – especially staffing and waiting times.

    "We need a sustainable long-term fix for these issues and that cannot be achieved with here today, gone next year monies. I welcome the Finance Minister seeking further flexibility to carry forward funds into next year recognising the health pressures we face and his commitment to multi-year budgets.

    "I call on Treasury to grant this flexibility and going forward to provide a multi-year Spending Review.”

    Source: Department of Health press releases

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