Covid vaccine rollout: Here's why Scotland is so far behind England and Wales – Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP

People think I want the SNP to fail, and I suppose on the things we disagree on, like an independence referendum, then that’s true.
Scotland should trust GPs to handle the Covid vaccination process, says Alex Cole-Hamilton (Picture: Brian Eyre)Scotland should trust GPs to handle the Covid vaccination process, says Alex Cole-Hamilton (Picture: Brian Eyre)
Scotland should trust GPs to handle the Covid vaccination process, says Alex Cole-Hamilton (Picture: Brian Eyre)

But on the vaccine rollout I don’t just want them to succeed, I want them to surpass all expectations.

However, when you consider that on Saturday, Wales, a country almost half our size, inoculated ten per cent more people than we did then I’m afraid the conclusion that the Scottish government are getting this wrong, becomes inescapable.

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On Sunday afternoon I went for a walk at Cammo with one of my oldest friends, who is a GP. I asked him about the vaccine and he visibly crumpled.

He explained that they’re geared up to vaccinate 1,000 people a day but can only order 100 doses a week. That number means more when put in context: My friend is a partner at one of the biggest practices in Scotland. One hundred doses a week. Just let that sink in for a moment.

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His inbox, like mine, is overrun with correspondence from anxious people, worried they’ve missed their slot and asking why English friends and relatives much younger than they are have already had their first dose.

All told, Scotland is nearly 30 per cent behind where it should be right now. Put another way, if we were keeping pace with England, we’d have given the vaccine to nearly 200,000 more people than we have. So, what on Earth is going on?

A partial explanation can be found in the Twitter feed of the former director of operations at Yes Scotland, Mark Shaw.

Mr Shaw clearly doesn’t have an axe to grind against the SNP and whilst he’s not a clinician, he’s married to one. His partner is a GP and he has identified what he refers to as a “centralised bottleneck” in the Scottish government’s vaccine rollout plan.

South of the border, the GPs are in charge. NHS England has adopted the wise approach that local doctors know what they’re doing.

After all, they vaccinate a hefty chunk of their communities every flu season and as such should just be left to get on with it. They have a ready supply of vaccine and the resources they need to set up clinics in church halls and sports centres.

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Here in Scotland, it’s a different story. Decision-making takes place at the centre and there are two additional layers of red tape and administration between GPs and the vaccine supply.

Indeed, according to Mark Shaw, they find themselves at the end of the decision-making chain, the result of which is the 100 dose-a-week limit.

It’s not clear why this limit was ever put in. It may be something to do with the cold chain requirements of the Pfizer vaccine, but most practices are giving out AstraZeneca now, which can be kept in the fridge. In any case, we need to reform the rollout plan and adopt the English approach.

We need to trust our GPs. They know what they’re doing and, if only slipped from the fetters of centralised control, could turn around this suboptimal vaccine rollout and shorten the time we all have left in this collective nightmare.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western

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