Shadow Health Secretary Donald Cameron has said that SNP Ministers must outline how they are planning for a Covid-19 vaccine rollout across Scotland this week.
The Highlands and Islands MSP said: “People are understandably feeling positive about a potential vaccine for Coronavirus, which is why it is critical for the SNP Government to lay out the detail of their roll-out plans as a matter of urgency.
We can ill-afford to repeat the same mistakes we saw with the flu vaccination earlier this year."
“SNP Ministers need to set out what infrastructure is being put in place right now so they are ahead of the game when it comes to rolling out any vaccine across Scotland when it becomes available, and doing so fairly and effectively. Getting this right will be particularly important for the Highlands and Islands with our dispersed population and challenging geography."
“We must be assured that our region does not end up playing catch-up with the Central Belt which is an understandable concern locally given the track record of this Government in other matters affecting us.”
The Scottish Conservatives have also submitted a topical question to Parliament asking SNP Health Secretary Jeane Freeman to explain her plans, and have submitted a series of further Parliamentary Questions.
Donald Cameron submitted questions asking the Scottish Government:
When a national plan for the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines will be published?
For an update on the development of a communications campaign to promote the uptake of COVID-19 vaccines?
How many freezers have been procured for the storage of COVID-19 vaccines and where they will be located?
What steps are being taken to ensure NHS Scotland has the necessary syringes and other equipment required to administer COVID-19 vaccines?
What steps are being taken to ensure NHS Scotland has the necessary workforce to administer COVID-19 vaccines?
Which sites are being considered for mass COVID-19 immunisation centres?
How COVID-19 vaccines will be transported and delivered to immunisation sites?
To outline how COVID-19 vaccines will be distributed in remote and rural areas, including Scotland’s islands?
How far members of the public will have to travel to access a COVID-19 vaccine?
If general practitioners will have responsibility for the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines?
How the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines will align with the flu vaccination programme?
What other public services will support NHS Scotland in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines?
How, for any COVID-19 vaccine which requires two doses, they will ensure patients receive both doses of the vaccination in the correct timescale?
What forward planning is taking place for the eventuality that COVID-19 vaccination is required annually?
Flu vaccination background:
This year, Scotland’s 14 health boards were handed responsibility for delivering the flu vaccination programme instead of GP practices. The move pre-dates the pandemic as it was part of the new GP contract agreed between the Scottish Government and BMA trade union in 2018 (BBC News, 15 October 2020, link).
Flu vaccine problems:
Health boards have invited the youngest age groups first. NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde, NHS Lanarkshire, NHS Lothian, NHS Forth Valley and NHS Western Isles are all partially or fully using the Scottish Immunisation Recall System (SIRS) which was designed for childhood vaccinations and prioritises the youngest first. As a result, 65-year-olds are being invited for the jags first, while those in their 90s - who might normally have been vaccinated in early October - could wait until the end of November or even December (Herald Scotland, 17 October 2020, archived; Herald Scotland, 14 October 2020, link).
A backlog of appointment letters is resulting in patients receiving letters after their appointment. Patients in Aberdeenshire, Moray and Lanarkshire have reported receiving appointment letters after the appointment or only hours beforehand. Postal workers reported the backlog of letters as ‘like Christmas’ with letters piling up (Herald Scotland, 17 October 2020, archived; Aberdeen Evening Express, 15 October 2020, link; Press & Journal, 16 October 2020, link).
NHS Grampian admitted they were ‘struggling to cope’ last month. A spokeswoman for the health board said: ‘The telephone helpline and email address set up to support the public vaccination campaign has experienced a surge in inquiries that staff are struggling to cope with at present’ (Aberdeen Evening Express, 15 October 2020, link).
Pharmacies have been forced to refuse bookings, including for over 65s. Boots said that ‘due to the level of demand and limited stock that we have available, we made the decision to pause taking any new bookings for our private and NHS under 65s Flu Vaccination Services. Since then, we have been closely monitoring our stock levels of the vaccination recommended by the NHS for patients aged 65 and over and can confirm that we have also now suspended new bookings for these vaccinations’ (The Courier, 20 October 2020, link).
Scottish Care said the rollout was ‘poorly managed and patchy’. Donald Macaskill, chief executive of Scottish Care, said ‘We are very concerned that the roll out has been as poorly managed and as patchy as it is... If this is a prototype for the vaccination which we hope will come in the spring for COVID then we have got to learn the lessons very quickly’. He added that the transfer of responsibility from GPs to health boards has created a ‘very piecemeal’ approach (BBC News, 15 October 2020, link).
GPs have described it as an ‘absolute shambles’. Dr John Montgomery said: ‘It’s an absolute shambles. Of all the years we had to be coordinated and organised, and we're not. I really feel for patients who are understandably thinking “what’s going on?”’ (BBC News, 15 October 2020, link).
Professor Linda Bauld has called for a rethink of this year’s system. She said it ‘really needs to be rethought’ as the model inviting younger people to be vaccinated first was ‘highly unfortunate and short-sighted’ (Herald Scotland, 17 October 2020, archived).