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Cold comfort for our elderly patients

Rhona Aikman is preparing for the busiest time of year - flu immunisation time - and is hoping that this year things run smoothly. Often this is the only time she gets to see some of her elderly patients …

This week at work has been the start of our annual flu immunisations - probably the busiest few weeks of the year for me.

We have over the years tried various ways to address the flu imms - with drop-in clinics, 5-minute booked appointments, allocating days to come by surname - you name it we have tried it. But something always seems to conspire to disrupt things - uncertain delivery dates for vaccine supplies is the usual culprit.

This year we seem to have good supplies so maybe all will run smoothly!

We try to emphasise to patients that these clinics are only for their flu vaccine - if only it was that straightforward. The list of requests we get is endless - here are a few examples which I am sure will sound familiar.

  • While I'm here, could I just get my blood pressure checked?
  • I had some blood tests recently - could you check the results?
  • I think I might have a chest infection but thought I would just come anyway.
  • I have brought along a form for a passport/ housing/driving licence/blue badge/attendance allowance - could you just fill it in while I am here?

Sometimes I feel as though it takes longer to explain why another appointment is needed and it would have been quicker just to do it in the first place. There is that slightly guilty feeling too as they leave; maybe I should just have done it. However, this then compounds the problems for the following year. A quick look at the list of people still waiting to be seen makes me feel less guilty.

The practice I work in has a large number of elderly patients - over 10% of our list is aged over 75 years. Many are remarkable for their years. Some of those we see around this time of year for flu vaccine are rarely seen otherwise. Many have "struggled along" to the health centre and could easily have asked for a home visit for their flu vaccine. It can be difficult therefore to balance the volume of work at this time of year with meeting the needs of the patients.
Also shortly we will be due to roll out the catch-up HPV immunisations for eligible girls who have left school and several new contact services are due to be launched locally.

The current economic crisis is causing worry for many people and the elderly are particularly vulnerable with rising fuel costs. Winter in the west of Scotland tends to be cold, wet and windy and many elderly venture out much less. Therefore they have even higher heating and lighting costs. Added to that is the rise in the general cost of living and food costs.
Several years ago there was a good local service called "Good morning Inverclyde". It offered a daily phone call at a prearranged time to vulnerable people who lived alone. It ran for about two years and then seemed to just disappear, apparently having run out of funding. I am certain there are areas that have similar schemes so I am going to make it my next project to find out about any schemes and see if they would be suitable locally. I would be glad to hear from anyone with any similar schemes in their area.