Covid in Wales: 'Significant confusion' over booster walk-ins

  • Published
  • comments
Related Topics
Media caption,

The Welsh government has said there will not booster be walk-ins as there are in England

There is "significant confusion" over walk-in boosters in Wales, a Plaid Cymru Senedd member has said.

Wales' health minister Eluned Morgan said walk-in boosters would be available to specific groups of people.

But Plaid's Rhun ap Iorwerth said there was a "discrepancy" between what Ms Morgan said and what is happening, with 18% of people not attending appointments in the last week.

The Welsh government denied there was a "free-for-all as seen in England".

BBC Wales has heard reports of boosters being handed out without appointment at some locations, without restrictions to specific groups.

Walk-ins are being offered for first and second doses in the Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board area.

Claire Williams, who is in charge of rollout in Merthyr Tydfil, Bridgend and Rhondda Cynon Taf, said the service had been available since the summer.

She added: "We're going to continue to offer walk-ins for first and second doses, because although there is a huge push at the moment and a large focus on boosters, we know that if you haven't had a first or second, actually you're even more vulnerable to the new variant already."

Ms Williams believes vaccinators have "built quite a lot of trust with the public" over the past year, meaning most are waiting to be contacted for their booster.

"What we need to do is reassure [that] all the days people already have appointments that their appointment is valid, we will vaccinate them at the time they have received," she told BBC Radio Wales Breakfast.

The centres are set to open for longer hours, but Ms Williams said 10 to 15% of appointments were being missed and urged people to turn up.

That "did not attend" figure for vaccination centres across Wales was 18%, the Welsh government said.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Its booster programme is being drastically sped up

NHS authorities across the UK are drastically ramping up the booster programme in response to the Omicron variant, with all adults to be offered a booster by the end of the year.

In England there have been reports of large queues as people wait for boosters in some locations.

No 'free-for-all'

Ms Morgan has said there would be no "free-for-all" walk-in system in Wales, and compared the scenes in England to "survival of the fittest".

The Welsh government wants to offer the booster jab to more at-risk groups first, as long as it is at least three months after their second dose.

But three BBC journalists in Wales say they had their boosters without appointment.

One did so at a drive-in centre, while another queued at a facility alongside younger adults after hearing it was accepting walk-ins on social media.

Image caption,
People will be offered their vaccine by phone or text

Ms Morgan has said there will be a hybrid system of walk-ins and appointments, with the former limited to certain "cohorts".

Asked to clarify how the walk-in system would work, the Welsh government said health boards will operate "some walk-in sessions on an age basis for anyone who may not have been contacted or who cannot make their allocated appointment".

It said "most people will receive a text, phone call or letter to allocate them a booster appointment".

But on its website, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board in north Wales said people will be able to book online or attend drop-in clinics.

Health officials in Ystradgynlais in Powys, who are holding walk-in clinics for boosters, said jabbing 462 people on Tuesday alone prompted them to extend the service until the end of the week.

Lois Keaney, 39, from Ystalyfera, said she was relieved to see her husband get his third jab at the pop-up clinic at the town's miner's welfare hall after receiving her appointment last week.

Image caption,
Lois Keaney said she felt "a lot better now knowing that we are all boosted up"

"I think it's brilliant that they're trialling it but it needs to get the rest of the country to be honest," she said.

"People are being asked to have the booster and there's only one place in certain areas to have it done, so it's really good that they've opened up here at the welfare hall."

Image caption,
The pop-up service was originally planned for two days

Linda Williams, from the Brecon Beacons, said the only way she could get a booster was at the walk-in centre because she had just returned from Australia.

"We want to make sure that we are protected and just as safe as we can be" she said.

A Powys Teaching Health Board official said the pop-up model made sense to reach remote communities.

Image caption,
Linda Williams said the Powys walk-in centre was the only one she could find

Mr ap Iorwerth, Plaid's health spokesman, said: "It's clear that there's a significant amount of confusion around the issue of walk-in centres and a significant discrepancy between what the minister is saying she wants to happen... and what is happening on the ground."

People "want to know that theirs is happening in an organised way, that their turn will come quickly," he said.

Confusion is caused, the Senedd member argued, "if people hear of some walk-ins happening in some areas, but they've been told by the government to wait their turn".

"Government really needs to get a handle on this."

The MS agreed with the principle of the government's stance but said "it makes sense to tell people when their cohort is [due] to be done.

"It gives clarity, it gets people in quickly, it gets people in in the right order. But currently, there's just all sorts of different models being used, and the government seemingly denying that that's the case."

Speaking to Radio Wales Breakfast, the leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd, Andrew RT Davies said he would be pushing the Welsh government for clarity on when everyone who wanted a booster jab would receive one, rather than just being offered one.

"I'm all about meeting that booster programme target by the end of the month," he said.

"I was pushing the first minister yesterday to try and understand exactly when the booster campaign will be delivering on the commitment on not just appointments but actually boosters in the arms of individuals who are desperate to get the booster jabs."

Image caption,
Some centres have offered walk-ins but say appointments are the priority

'Survival of the fittest'

In the Senedd on Tuesday Ms Morgan said: "I think it is really important that people understand that our system in Wales is different to that in England.

"We're not going to have walk-ins as they are seen in England. It's not going to be a free-for-all here.

"I don't know where people get that idea that we are doing it in the same way as England - we're not."

She added: "It's not a free-for-all as seen in England. We don't want to see people shivering outside in the middle of winter, as is happening in England.

"What's happening there is survival of the fittest."

A Cobra meeting between the UK government and the devolved administrations is due to take place later on Wednesday, according to government sources.

Public Health Wales (PHW) has reported 10 further deaths with Coronavirus and 2,431 new cases.

It takes the total number of deaths reported by PHW to 6,501 and the total number of cases to 543,685.

The seven-day rolling case rate per 100,000 people has risen very slightly to 499.8, compared to 499.4 yesterday.