Local health chiefs were grilled by councillors for not releasing information about Covid-19 (coronavirus) vaccinations in Bedford.
Some elected members at the borough council believe a reluctance to provide up to date information is causing some residents to distrust what they are being told and for rumours to spread.
Making a “plea for openness”, Cllr Hilde Hendrickx (Lib Dem, Newnham) said: “It would really be helpful if we could share at least a basic level of data, if we could be open when we communicate both in terms of what’s happening and what the challenges are.
“This lack of openness and transparency really causes confusion, anxiety and it erodes trust.”
She added: “If we understand what’s happening we can really get behind this because we all want this programme to succeed.”
The cancellation of vaccinations without explanation on Sunday at the recently opened Guru Nanak Gurdwara Temple was raised at Monday’s meeting of the health scrutiny committee.
Councillors were told that the number one priority for the available vaccines at the weekend was care home residents and staff.
A spokesperson for Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes Clinical Commissioning Group (BLMK) told the Bedford Independent that supplies of the vaccine for the Gurdwara were delayed, which meant the appointments had to be cancelled.
“There have been some issues with the supply chain and unfortunately the vaccine supplies didn’t arrive for Sunday’s appointments,” the spokesperson said.
They confirmed that the vaccination of care home residents and staff was not at the expense of residents waiting for their vaccine at other vaccination hubs.
Councillors also asked health chiefs how many of the over 80s and care home residents had received their jabs.
Dr Nicky Poulain, the director of primary care at Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes Clinical Commissioning Group (BLMK) told the committee that: “The most important thing is answering questions and queries” and that she would “try and give clarity.”
But on the question of actual numbers she said they weren’t allowed to share the data.
Michelle Summers, BLMK’s associate director of communications, said the concern is about giving inaccurate information.
Clarifying the situation, a spokesperson for the BLMK said: “Care homes are recording their data on one system, GPs are using another system and Bedford Hospital is using a different system, therefore it is very hard to give a definitive number.
“Not to mention the Bedford Borough residents who went to Stevenage to for their vaccine.
“We want to make sure the most accurate figure is given, not an estimate.”
The officials could not confirm the location of the town’s third vaccination hub, but said it would open in February.
Cllr Hendricks said she found that “unacceptable”, saying “I don’t understand why that should be a secret”.
She said a Government announcement about half of all over 80s being inoculated were “clearly not the case in Bedford”.
“We and our residents should be able to know that data,” she added.
Dr Poulain admitted that it was a “point of view shared by many other individuals and we may share them ourselves” and added that a “real time information” system is being developed.
Cllr Dean Crofts (Lib Dem, Kingsbrook Ward) asked if there was a “problem with supply”.
Dr Poulain responded: “The word ‘problem’, we need to quantify.”
She added that there is a “precious supply line” which had caused a delay in the start of the programme.
But she said by this Friday, Bedford Borough “will be ahead of the others.”
She said that there are 72,000 people in the top target categories in Bedford, with 22,000 over 80s, 16,000 aged 75-79, 23,000 aged 70-74; and 10,000 people aged 20-69 who are clinically extremely vulnerable.
“There are variables out of the CCG’s control,” she added.
by David Tooley, Local Democracy Reporter
with additional reporting by Erica Roffe