‘Chaos and confusion’ as government vaccine website crashes and GPs’ phone lines jam

Australia's virus vaccination rollout has moved into the next phase but it is lagging way behind deadlines.

Australia's virus vaccination rollout has moved into the next phase but it is lagging way behind deadlines. Photo: AAP

The government’s COVID vaccine booking website has crashed on its first day, with key problems in the system taking health workers “by surprise” as doctors’ phone lines jammed with people calling their GPs directly.

Health Minister Greg Hunt defended the government’s new COVID-19 vaccination booking system following reports of online system failures shortly after its long-awaited launch, asking for patience as the next stage of the jab rollout finally begins.

“This is simply not good enough. These systems should have been tested and finalised weeks ago,” Labor health spokesman Mark Butler said on Wednesday afternoon.

“Instead all we’re seeing out there today is chaos and confusion.”

In theory, more than six million Australians eligible under Phase 1b, due to begin on Monday, can now use the Department of Health’s eligibility tool to book an appointment at GPs or clinics.

But within hours of the function going live on Wednesday morning, many users reported technical difficulties. Some received errors when attempting to make a booking, while others were refused bookings from their closest clinics.

When The New Daily tried to make an online booking as an eligible Australian, nearly all practices were listed as ‘phone bookings only’.

Others pointed out some participating GP clinics were not available on the website at all.

Responding to complaints over the glitches on Wednesday, Mr Hunt urged Australians to be “patient”.

“Not everybody will be able to vaccinated on day one or week one,” the minister told reporters in Parliament House. 

“Today is the first day.”

He said all the practices listed on the government website on Wednesday would receive vaccine doses over the next 48 hours. Australia’s chief medical officer Brendan Murphy confirmed everyone in Phase 1b will be vaccinated in coming weeks.

“Please do not badger your GPs,” he told reporters.

“Take your time.”

People who are worried they can’t spot their GP clinic on the website immediately may see it appear in coming days, he said.

Those involved can also call the national COVID-19 hotline on 1800 020 080 to discuss eligibility or make a booking.

Australians under Phase1b include people aged over 70, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over 55, healthcare workers not covered in Phase 1a and adults with underlying medical conditions.

About 1000 GP clinics will be able to start vaccinations from Monday.

The government says that figure will climb to 4000 by the end of April, when Australian-made AstraZeneca vaccines begin rolling off  production tables.

About 200,000 people have been vaccinated so far.

Doctors flooded with calls

Mr Butler said doctors and patients had shared “confusion and frustration” with the system. He criticised the government for not rolling out the website earlier, and for technological issues.

“The health system website continues to drop out, people are continuing to have problems logging on to a website that is the gateway to the vaccine rollout,” Mr Butler said.

“We’re hearing story after story of patients ringing GP practices listed in the newspapers and the website, but being told their books are closed and they won’t be able to get a vaccine through that practice.”

Daniel Perry, clinic director of Double Bay Doctors in Sydney, said his practice was inundated with calls for vaccine bookings on Wednesday, which “took us by surprise”.

“We have multiple receptionists working and our phone wait times were very much blown out,” he said.

“The government website advised people to call and make an appointment, whereas normally we’d operate an online booking service.”

Mr Perry said the government website was supposed to include a link to Double Bay’s online booking service, but only included their phone number.

“We put in effort to implement a sophisticated online booking system to manage our COVID vaccines. It would’ve been helpful if patients were directed to our website, rather than to call the practice,” he said.

PNG vaccine assistance

Mr Hunt stressed Australia’s coronavirus vaccine program will not be slowed by our emergency delivery of 8000 vaccine doses to Papua New Guinea, where an outbreak is exploding. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also pledged to send face masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment to help the Pacific nation get on top of its alarming wave of cases.

The government will also ask for a million of our foreign-made doses – which are held up in Europe due to export controls – to be immediately released and redirected to PNG.

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