British Army establishing 80 new vaccine centres in Scotland amid concern English rollout is faster

Simon Johnson
·5-min read
An aerial drone view of a mass vaccination centre in Manchester. None are open in Scotland yet -  Getty Images Europe
An aerial drone view of a mass vaccination centre in Manchester. None are open in Scotland yet - Getty Images Europe
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter

The British Army is establishing 80 new vaccine centres in Scotland from Monday, the Defence Secretary has announced after official figures suggested the rollout is far faster in England.

As part of the largest peacetime resilience operation even undertaken by the UK Armed Forces, 98 soldiers will support NHS Scotland over the next 28 days.

The soldiers, mainly from the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards based at Leuchars in Fife, have been organised into 11 vaccination centre set-up teams.

They will use their logistical, organisational and clinical expertise to establish the centres, before handing them over to NHS Scotland to deliver the vaccination programme.

Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, said their involvement will free up NHS Scotland and councils to focus on administering the initial 900,000 doses the UK Government has allocated to Scotland this month.

Matt Hancock, the UK Health Secretary, said more than 3.5 million people across the UK had already been vaccinated and "this is rapidly increasing every day as more vaccine sites open."

The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards are to set up 11 vaccination centres - Army
The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards are to set up 11 vaccination centres - Army

Scotland ended last week vaccinating around 16,000 people per day but England vaccinated 20 times that number on Friday - around double the rate per head of population. Nicola Sturgeon has set a target of vaccinating 400,000 Scots per week by the end of February.

She last week denied her government was already falling behind England, arguing Scotland was focusing more on reaching care home residents before moving on to the over-80s in the community.

But 10 more mass vaccination centres will open in England on Monday, in addition to seven opened last week. They are not scheduled to start opening in Scotland until next month under the SNP's deployment plan.

Sir Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, said more than half of people over 80 south of the Border had received their first dose and vaccinations are happening "four times faster than people are newly catching coronavirus".

He told the BBC's Andrew Marr 140 people per minute are being given their jab in England and some hospitals would open for vaccinations 24 hours a day, seven days a week on a trial basis in the next 10 days.

However, Dr Andrew Buist, chair of the British Medical Association's (BMA's) Scottish GP committee warned a key target to vaccinate the over-70s and extremely clinically vulnerable people by mid-February in Scotland would be missed if vaccine supply continues to be "patchy."

His practice has only received 100 doses to vaccinate more than 600 people aged over 80, he said, and he cannot even arrange appointments until he is sure "we have the vaccine in our fridge."

Dr Buist also warned the SNP government's efforts to get retired doctors and nurses to administer the vaccine had been "quite bureaucratic."

His intervention came after an eminent dentist warned that "ridiculous bureaucratic hold-ups" were stymieing his profession's attempts to help the rollout, leading some potential vaccinators to quit.

David McColl, chair of the British Dental Association's Scottish dental practice committee, said the barrage of paperwork and training modules was a "fiasco." In contrast, dentists in England are being allowed to self-certify to speed up the process.

Their warnings came as the number of people hospitalised with Covid in Scotland rose to 1,918 on Sunday, the highest level since the pandemic started, including 147 in intensive care.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace - Geoff Pugh
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace - Geoff Pugh

Ms Sturgeon has faced demands for several weeks to call in the military to speed up the rollout and Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, signed off a Military Aid to the Civil Authorities request on Friday evening.

Involving personnel from the Royal Army Medical Corps, the military team from Fife will survey suggested vaccination sites for suitability.

They will then organise car parking and traffic flow systems, establish patient recording methods and practices, facilitate vaccine delivery to the sites and prepare storage for medicines and equipment.

Mr Wallace said: "The Armed Forces are operating across the length and breadth of the country, using their unique skillset to ensure the vaccine reaches the very finger-tips of the United Kingdom.

"Our work supporting the new vaccine sites in Scotland complements the extensive preparation and planning the military are already conducting to support the vaccine rollout programme."

Mr Jack said: "For us all, vaccines are the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m very pleased that the expertise of the British Armed Forces is helping the Scottish Government get vaccines into arms as quickly as possible."

Mr Hancock said: "Our vaccination programme covers all parts of the UK and I’m proud the armed forces are supporting the largest rollout in our country’s history."

Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary - Shutterstock
Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary - Shutterstock

Dr Buist said "good progress" on vaccinating care home and NHS staff but his practice needs 1,700 doses delivered in the next four weeks for the mid-February target to be met.

Around 5,500 healthcare professionals have registered an interest in vaccinating people, including dentists, pharmacists and optometrists.

But Mr McColl told the Sunday Herald the "clunky" process required them to complete 15 hours of training modules even before they apply. He added: "I started it and gave up because I really don't have the time to do that.

"You're talking about me, with 33 years in dentistry, having to do equality and diversity training."

Donald Cameron, the Scottish Tories' Health Secretary, said: "Excessive bureaucracy and delays to the vaccine reaching GPs will hinder progress of the rollout, and the latest figures already show the SNP are around 3,000 doses per day behind their own targets."

Jeane Freeman, the Scottish Health Secretary, said: "This is the largest mass vaccination programme Scotland has ever undertaken and I am very grateful to the Armed Forces for their support to help us meet the significant logistical challenges involved."