JEANE Freeman has ruled out using the system behind the "shambolic" winter flu jab programme for a future coronavirus vaccine.

The Health Secretary told MSPs the Scottish NHS would “certainly not be using the SIRS programme” for Covid, after it put the old and vulnerable to the back of the queue. 

She also criticised NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde for a belated apology on the issue.

Both NHS Greater Glasgow and NHS Lanarkshire have been forced to issue public apologies after using SIRS to take over the flu jab programme from GPs this year.

SIRS, or the Scottish Immunisation Recall System, was originally developed for childhood immunisations, and automatically prioritises the youngest patients.

When used for the winter flu roll-out, it therefore offered jabs to 65-year-olds first while people in their 80s and 90s, who are most in need, went to the end of the line.

The scheme was dubbed an “absolute shambles” and a “recipe for disaster” by Labour.

Other health boards have also had problems with the elderly unable to get appointments of being offered slots too late to use them or at impractical remote sites.

Announcing an extra £37 million to ensure health and care services over the winter, Ms Freeman said SIRS would have no place in a future Covid jab. 

After Labour MSP Monica Lennon pointed out the flu programme had not gone well in many parts of the country, Ms Freeman said: “I really do need to be clear that I am not saying the flu vaccination programme across Scotland has gone smoothly.

“There are some boards where it has gone very well, but there are others where it has not.

“Either because they have been overwhelmed by telephone enquiries and weren’t staffed up to deal with that, or where they have used the SIRS programme, which is used for childhood vaccination to plan appointments.

“And the SIRS programme as we all know is about childhood vaccination, and rightly for that group puts the youngest first.

“Not appropriate for flu, where we need to prioritise those who are oldest and most at risk first - and so we will most certainly not be using the SIRS programme for the Covid vaccination programme.

“The board which is most high profile in this regard [problems with SIRS] is Greater Glasgow and Clyde. They have absolutely rightly apologised. 

“In my own mind, I think they’ve taken a wee bit too long to do it, but they’ve done it. 

“They’ve apologised and they’ve offered a reassurance. 

“The reassurance is that everyone over the age of 65 who has not received an appointment letter so far will receive one this week. 

“That they will make every effort to give people as much local accessibility as they possibly can, and they will staff up to do that.”

Ms Freeman gave Ms Lennon her “personal assurance” that she would monitor how health boards improved their flu jab programmes, citing recent progress in Grampian and Fife. 

She said: “We learn as we go. No great comfort to patients who are anxious and so, but we learn as we go, and we apply that to the Covid vaccination programme.”

This is the first year that health boards have taken over responsibility for immunisations, which were previously handled by GPs.

Protecting the elderly and at-risk groups from flu is particularly important this winter due to the threat posed by Covid.

Research has shown that patients who catch Covid and flu together were twice as likely to die compared to those with Covid alone.