• Under 80s accessed vaccinations through Guy’s Hospital booking system
  • People phoned number up to 200 times
  • Guy’s says people should wait to be contacted

A leading hospital trust has been giving covid-19 vaccinations ‘on demand’ to people outside the top priority groups but who phoned for appointments without an invite, for several weeks, it has emerged.

Details of a number for the covid booking system at Guy’s Hospital have been widely circulated on social media in the south east London area, leading to many people ringing up and making bookings rather than waiting for an invitation for the vaccination. Vaccinations are intended to be “invite only”, apart from health and care staff, and largely to be given to those in priority groups.

HSJ has seen several accounts from people who were not in the over 80s age group or health and social care staff — the categories being prioritised, along with care home residents, until earlier this week, when over-70s and clinically extremely vulnerable were added.

It appears to have been happening since at least the beginning of January.

Some people were able to book appointments for the next day, indicating they were not given simply to use up excess supplies at the end of a day. Most of the people involved were over 70 and living in a south London postcode. It appears that, in the last few days, the hospital has tightened criteria, with some being told it was only for over 75s. 

When contacted by HSJ, the trust has also indicated it will now stop.

One social media comment — now removed — suggested relatives of one caller had incorrectly claimed to be their carers in to get themselves vaccinations as well. In another case, a man in his early 70s said he was told he could have the vaccine despite not being over 75 because he was taking his wife — who was over 75 — for hers.

The phone number for the service was repeatedly given on social media, with people saying it had taken up to 200 attempts to get through. Some comments seen by HSJ on social media suggested people were very reluctant to wait to be contacted by the NHS with an appointment date; but others expressed concern about queue-jumping over those who were a higher priority.

One tweet — which tagged health and social care secretary Matt Hancock — said Guy’s was giving out “jabs to anyone who turned up, usually those well under the age of 80” and described it as “a disgrace”.

It is unclear how many people were able to bypass the system or how long it has been going on but the tweet is dated 1 January.

Guy’s and St Thomas’ Foundation Trust, which runs the hospital, is understood to be aware the information had been circulated on social media and some people had been given vaccinations despite not being in the priority groups and not having invites.

NHS England indicated earlier in January that vaccination centres could be more flexible in giving vaccines beyond the top priority groups, but recipients are still meant to be invited, rather than taken “on demand”. It is unclear how widely the practice is taking place.

Chris Mikata-Pralat, director of Community Southwark, host of Healthwatch Southwark, said: ”We are disappointed and upset to hear that the booking number for covid-19 vaccinations was leaked on social media and that a minority of people who are not in the current eligible groups have exploited this to get a vaccine.”

A Guy’s and St Thomas’ spokesman said: “We are working hard to deliver covid-19 vaccines to those most at risk following the guidelines from the [Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation] and booking people in by appointment only. As such we are asking people not to turn up or contact us until invited to come in.” He declined to comment further. 

Yesterday, the Evening Standard reported people not in the top priority groups were booking vaccinations after an electronic link designed for health workers at East London FT was shared on social media.