Doctor fears Highland ‘so far behind’ in vaccine rollout

It could be another fortnight before patients start receiving the coronavirus jab.

A Highland GP has urged the Scottish Government to speed up the distribution of coronavirus vaccinations amid growing frustration the region has not kept pace with other parts of Britain.

Director of public health Dr Tim Allison has told councillors it will be another week or two before local GPs are informed about the distribution of the vaccine.

In Highland, the jabs have so far been limited to “red pathway staff in primary and secondary care” – meaning people having direct contact with Covid-positive or potentially Covid-positive patients.

Care home residents and staff have also been vaccinated along with lab staff who test samples, those who are doing the vaccinating and inpatients at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.

But there is anger in Caithness, where the region’s medical lead, GP Dr Alison Brooks, told STV News: “It’s very frustrating. We’ve been wanting to get started with vaccinating our vulnerable patients since December.

“When we first heard that the Pfizer vaccine had been approved and that over-80 year-olds would be vaccinated before Christmas, we thought we’d be getting supplies. But here we are with still no vaccine and no date for even starting vaccinations of our most vulnerable.

“And yet, down in England, they’re down to the over-70s. They’ve vaccinated their most vulnerable groups and they’re working their way down. We feel that we’re so far behind.”

Dr Brooks acknowledged that NHS Highland had attempted to keep GP practices up to date.

She said: “The problem is that with the new variant of Covid virus, the spread is so much more rapid. So it’s putting vulnerable people at risk.

“We need to put pressure on the Scottish Government to get the supplies of the vaccine out to the health boards because they have been incredibly slow.”

She added that, in an area that has experienced reforms in maternity services, a loss of clinics and “centralisation” of services forcing patients to travel 100 miles to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness, many patients “feel that they don’t matter.”

NHS Highland chief executive Pam Dudek said: “We started the (vaccination) programme on December 9 across NHS Highland.

“The approach in the first instances related to the parameters in place at that time with priority groups identified. For us, this meant focussing on the care home residents and staff alongside the health and social care staff.

“The change of policy to first and second doses being 12 weeks apart and the increase, therefore, in available vaccine to increase the pace of the priority groups getting their first vaccine has required further planning and coordination.

“We are actively completing the vaccination of those priority groups of care homes and health and social care staff including the primary care workforce across all areas.   

“Our ongoing plans for vaccination for the weeks and months to come will be fully established by the end of this week and we plan to put out regular communications on our progress against our plan from next week.”

She added: “We are really sorry that the locality of Caithness has this view of the board’s programme and hope that in the weeks to come they see that this is not the case.”

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government insisted the programme for vaccinating everyone over the age of was under way.

She said: “All over-80 year-olds will be starting now to get appointments – either by phone or by letter.

“The JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination Immunisation) priorities are linked to prevention of death and serious illness from Covid-19 and this is why protecting the oldest members of our community and those caring for them is a priority.

“We are then moving to the next groups of age groups across February and then to the wider younger adult population. This is in line with all parts of the UK following the same JCVI priorities.”

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