NZ's vaccination helpline labelled 'dysfunctional', 'a shambles' by adviser taking the calls

Laura James
Source: 1News

"Dysfunctional" and "a shambles". That's how New Zealand's vaccination helpline's been described by one of the advisers taking the calls.

The 0800 number had record demand yesterday, with 5200 callers, but 1 NEWS has been told advisers can only help about half of those calling.

A staff member who wants anonymity claims the only systems she can access properly are those in Auckland.

"If people call from the Canterbury area we have a telephone number we can give them ... or Southland, it's just come in this week, we can help people request a booking, it's not actually making a booking", she said.

From today, those working on the Covid Healthline can manage bookings in Northland too.

But for the rest of the country the adviser said: "When they call we just have to say to them that we are sorry, but at this stage, because every district health board is running a different process and our 0800 vaccine helpline service has not yet been asked to support any other region in New Zealand, we are simply not able to help them".

That's despite the number being supplied in vaccination information for the whole country.

"They are given our number when they're sent an invite from the Ministry of Health to book their vaccination appointment", she said.

It's also listed as a number to call about vaccinations on the Health Ministry's and Covid-19 website.

"It's called the vaccination helpline for a reason, we're meant to help people, and we simply can't and we get people that are really angry at us, we get abused," she said.

The College of General Practitioners, Dr Bryan Betty, said: "At the moment we're in a situation where there's a massive ramp up in terms of the immunisation programme, there's gonna be problems and that's what we're seeing, which is why I think the next couple weeks are really important in sorting this out".

The adviser 1 NEWS has spoken to is concerned about the rollout to group 3, this month, as a result of the issues she's seen.

"I really honestly don't think they have a clue as to how bad the system is working at the moment".

"I've had people tell me on the phone, 'I'm just about at the stage where I'm just going to give up and not even get vaccinated'."

In a statement, National Director of the Covid-19 vaccine and immunisation programme, Jo Gibbs, says the phone line is for public inquiries on vaccinations, but right now just manages bookings for five DHBs.

This includes Auckland DHBs, Southland, and from today, Northland.

"Information about what’s happening in other DHBs is on each local DHB’s website", Gibbs said.

"It is great to see such strong interest from people wanting to know both about the vaccine programme and how to book an appointment. We’d encourage anyone who receives an invitation to be vaccinated to take up that opportunity as soon as they can", Gibbs said.

"The flip side is that the intense interest generates a lot of calls to the helpline number, with yesterday the busiest day to date for the helpline vaccination services."

The Ministry's asking for patience as the largest immunisation programme is rolled out.

"The Ministry of Health, the service provider and all DHBs have a close working relationship and work through any issues as they are identified. That also helps inform the development of a national booking system that will progressively be used by DHBs. The national booking system is expected to be rolled out in June 2021," Betty says.

"Ideally there should be the ability to access a national line and get information on where they can get vaccination in the local area, down the track as we move into the second half of the year we'd hope general practice has the ability to recall patients," he says.

Whakarongorau Aotearoa New Zealand Telehealth Services, the group that manages the Covid vaccination information line for the Ministry of Health, also told 1 NEWS they're working to "ramp up staffing, availability of information and the training of staff to support the rollout over the coming months".

This month, people in group 3 can expect to receive an invitation for a vaccine from their DHB. The 1.7 million people in this group includes those who are 65 years or older, people with disabilities, and those with underlying health conditions.