Concern elderly people 'being ignored' as town has no vaccination centre
- Credit: Dan O'Connor
Concern has been expressed that vulnerable people in a west Norfolk town are being overlooked, with residents having to travel more than 10 miles to the nearest vaccination centre.
People in Downham Market have contacted South West Norfolk MP Liz Truss asking why the town has no vaccine centre despite there being a "very high proportion of elderly people" living there.
The nearest centres are in King's Lynn and Swaffham.
Dan O'Connor, 77 , resident of the town for 13 years, who is diabetic and receives treatment intermittently for skin cancer, called on vaccinations to be delivered "easily" to people in the area.
The former director of Citizens Advice in London said: "Fortunately, I can still drive, but at least five of my elderly neighbours, who live on their own, can’t drive, and I don’t how they would get to Swaffham.
"Nor do I think they would welcome having to use public transport to attempt the journey to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Lynn.
"Older people like myself are told we must stay at home."
Mr O'Connor, who has campaigned on health service issues including funding of GP services in west Norfolk, said he contacted his surgery about the vaccination and was told he would be notified of a date in January - but has not heard anything yet.
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In an email to Ms Truss, he said: "Although your government said that vaccination facilities would be available within a ten mile radius of where people, particularly the elderly, lived, our nearest facilities here in Downham are at Swaffham and King's Lynn, both of which are over 10 miles from Downham.
"How on earth are Downham’s vulnerable over 75s and over 80s expected to make their way to these venues in mid-winter if they can’t drive?
"There is no bus service to Swaffham from Downham. Even if a bus service was available, is it right that people who are exceptionally at risk from Covid, should be forced to use intermittent public transport to access vaccinations?
"Downham Market, which has a very high proportion of elderly people -all of them your constituents - is seemingly being ignored on this vital issue. Why?"
Ms Truss said a number of residents in South West Norfolk have asked her when they will receive the vaccine.
She said: "I want to reassure constituents that the vaccination programme is well underway and GPs, NHS staff, the CCG are working flat out on this and have done incredible work to get the programme operational whilst at the same time tackling Covid-19.
"Initially the rollout of the Pfizer vaccine meant that there were only a few locations that could accommodate the extreme cold storage required for this vaccine.
"This is the largest vaccine programme ever undertaken by the United Kingdom so understandably it takes time to get the programme up to speed and as more of the vaccines are manufactured, there will be the need for more vaccine centres."
In a later statement she added 1,000 patients in the over 80 age group from Downham Market had been invited to be vaccinated over the weekend of Saturday, January 9 and Sunday, January 10.
She said: "750 have had this done.
"Over the coming week, the CCG are also working with the GP surgeries in Downham to identify any over 80s who have not yet received the vaccine, this includes house bound residents.
"In addition all care homes for residents aged 65 and over plus staff in Downham Market will have received the vaccine, the only exemption is if there has been a positive Covid case in the care home.
"If there are any transport issues, this will be raised at the time of the booking of the vaccine and community transport can be arranged.
"‘As time progresses, more vaccine centres will open up."
The MP said she has raised the matter of a vaccine hub being located in the town with vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi.
NHS Norfolk and Waveney CCG has been contacted for comment.