Health chiefs say government guidance is unclear as people not working in hospitals and social care receive jags

NHS Lothian has admitted people not working in hospitals or in the social care sector could be entitled to jags ahead of care home residents and staff as it emerged volunteers at food banks have been given vaccines.

NHS Lothian said it did not have ‘detailed guidance’ from the Scottish Government on what is a priority health and social care worker.

Mark Wells, manager of the Food Facts Friends Community Hub and Food Bank, in Penicuik, says he and six of his volunteer staff have been given vaccinations by NHS Lothian in the past week.

This is despite some care home residents and staff still awaiting their vaccinations, and Edinburgh having the lowest percentage rate of vaccinations in Scotland - something NHS Lothian has previously said was due to the high number of care home residents and staff it needs to vaccinate.

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When asked why volunteers at community organisations are being vaccinated, despite not all care home residents and staff, as well as people over the age of 80, being vaccinated, NHS Lothian said it did not have ‘detailed guidance’ from the Scottish Government on what is a priority health and social care worker.

The health board also says the supply chain for the vaccine ‘is at times uneven and can be subject to delays’.

A spokesperson for the health board said: “Across Lothian, vaccinations are continuing for those who fall within the current Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) priority groups and in line with national guidance.

“GP practices are vaccinating their over 80s patients as fast as their vaccine supplies allow and everyone eligible for vaccination at their GP practice will be invited to attend by Friday 5 February 2021.

“Vaccines are being sent directly to GPs from the UK national distributer and neither GP practices nor NHS Lothian can influence the timings or quantities of the deliveries received.

“The supply chain for the vaccine is at times uneven and can be subject to delays, however all GPs practices have received an initial delivery of the vaccine and are currently in the process of getting larger supplies over the coming week.

“Included within the JCVI priority groups, and eligible for vaccination at this stage are Health and Social Care workers who work with the very vulnerable.

“This group can include independent contractors and those who work in the voluntary and charity sector – with workers being vaccinated at clinics run by NHS / HSCPs, bookable on a self-triage basis.

“At present, we do not have further or more detailed national guidance to help quantify what is meant by priority Health and Social Care workers.

“While we can be somewhat more prescriptive within our own organisation, for example, by issuing messaging to staff encouraging only those who are eligible (for example because they are patient facing to book appointments), this is obviously trickier with external organisations.

“It should be noted that it is up to external organisations to communicate with their volunteers, following issued guidance from NHS Lothian, the four Health and Social Care Partnerships and the local councils.

“Based on the JCVI guidance, if volunteers fall within the priority category, then they are eligible for vaccination.

“This does not however mean that volunteers have to take up the vaccination at this stage, as all individuals will have further opportunity for vaccination once the mass vaccination programme commences.

“So for example, an individual who is not currently volunteering, or an individual who volunteers but does not have interaction with those considered very vulnerable, may choose to wait until they are eligible as part of the mass vaccination programme.”

Councillor Phil Doggart, who represents Colinton and Fairmilehead for Edinburgh City Council, said: “Getting the vaccination programme completed as quickly as possible is of huge importance to the people of Edinburgh.

“I have received a number of enquiries about the pace of the roll-out in the city.

“There is frustration among residents that family members, particularly in care homes, have not been vaccinated while the vaccine roll out to others appears to be testing the definitions of the priority groupings.

“The issue many people have is not the supply of the vaccine but rather the application of that supply.

“The priority orders are in place for good reason and we all want to see those most at risk get the vaccine first.”

Councillor Pauline Winchester, who represents Midlothian West on Midlothian Council, said: “I don’t doubt that it is difficult to keep a track on who from outside organisations is eligible for the Covid vaccination.

“However, as much as I’m happy that food bank staff have been vaccinated, it should be policed at either the telephone stage or the vaccination stage.

“One volunteer told them that he was indeed a volunteer who worked in a foodbank – and was still told that he is eligible for it.

“It appears that anyone who has the relevant freephone number and calls, will get an appointment for the Covid vaccination.

“This is ridiculous and verging on a dangerous state of affairs and needs sorting urgently.“Scotland is well behind the rest of the UK for vaccinations of over 80 years old.

“Have the vaccinators go and help the GPs if they must – but they must address this urgently.

“If there are spaces, which there plainly are, then why are others, such as the police, not now being called forward?

“On the one hand we are hearing from the Scottish Government that there aren’t enough vaccine doses and then on the other we have a system whereby anyone can call, make an appointment and get a vaccination.”

The Scottish Government declined to comment.

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