Scottish GPs demand power to bypass health boards and order vaccine themselves to speed up roll-out

Simon Johnson
·6-min read
Scottish GP want the power to order vaccines themselves instead of going through health boards - PA
Scottish GP want the power to order vaccines themselves instead of going through health boards - PA

GPs want to accelerate Scotland's vaccine roll-out by bypassing health boards and ordering their stocks themselves, the Telegraph can disclose as it emerged 600,000 doses have arrived in the country.

The British Medical Association (BMA) yesterday asked Prof Alison Strath, the Scottish Government's interim chief pharmaceutical officer, to consider allowing family doctors to "directly" order the supplies they need to vaccinate their patients.

Dr Andrew Buist, chair of the BMA's Scottish GP's committee, said the move would "streamline" the process for them getting the vaccine as Nicola Sturgeon aims to "ramp up" the pace of delivery.

Family doctors are currently forced to place their orders with their local health boards and Dr Buist said that sometimes the doses arrive as promised, but other times they do not. He added: "We should cut out unnecessary layers and steps."

He said some practices were still yet to receive any of their requested doses even though the First Minister has promised all over-80s will be vaccinated by the first week of February.

The Telegraph understands that around 600,000 doses have so far arrived in Scotland as of this morning despite barely half that total having been injected into arms.

The remainder of Scotland's 717,000-dose allocation is in storage in England but is at the disposal of the SNP administration and can be ordered anytime in a manner government sources compared to the overnight delivery service Amazon Prime.

However, only 309,000 people have received their first dose after the total increased by 25,327 on Tuesday, the largest daily rise so far.

This means 6.9 per cent of Scotland's adult population has received their first dose compared to 9 per cent of England's, where 298,373 people received their first dose on Tuesday.

It also emerged that fewer than 30,000 Scots living in the community who were not NHS, social or care home workers had received a Covid vaccine by the start of this week.

This total included everyone aged 80 and over who had been given the vaccine, those who are deemed "clinically extremely vulnerable" and elderly people being cared for at home.

Ms Sturgeon vehemently denied Scotland was falling behind England's roll-out, despite GPs expressing frustration over their lack of supply, and again insisted that the greater focus on vaccinating care homes was responsible for the slower progress to date.

She said three-quarters of GP practices either have vaccine supply or "are in the process" of doing so, and the programme was "picking up pace."

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon attends First Minister's Questions at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood -  Getty Images Europe
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon attends First Minister's Questions at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood - Getty Images Europe

While groups of GP practices in England can directly order the vaccine they need, in Scotland they place their requests with boards.

The boards then pass the order information on to NHS Scotland's National Procurement service, which advises its "distribution partner", the healthcare firm Movianto.

Once stock is released, Movianto inputs the GP orders onto their system and delivery is normally timetabled weekly.

If a practice does not get enough stock, the GP has to go to the health board to see if more can be found rather than approaching National Procurement or Movianto directly.

Dr Buist told the Telegraph: "We do have a very centralised way of delivering it. We set up a system where boards are in charge and they can engage their practices more or less depending on their situation.

"It was a deliberately different model from England but it totally depends on supply. Some practices have had no vaccine and it's very frustrating and anxiety-provoking for the patients."

Arguing that GPs should have the power to place direct orders for their supplies, he said: "We raised with the chief pharmaceutical officer today at a meeting and she didn't dismiss it - it was something that they would give serious consideration to as it would streamline the process.

"We need to look at that process to make it quicker. We should cut out unnecessary layers and steps."

He said he was open to discussion about whether GPs placed their orders with NHS Scotland or directly with Movianto.

Donald Cameron, the Scottish Tories' Shadow Health Secretary, said: ": "The SNP is lagging behind its own vaccination targets which makes it important for all options to be considered. They must pick up the pace and GPs are well placed to help.

"It would be unforgivable if the SNP's centralised approach and refusal to think creatively was responsible for any further delays."

Ms Sturgeon yesterday denied Ruth Davidson's claim her government was "sitting" on enough vaccine to treat 87.5 per cent of the first target groups, saying there was a "really important, complex supply chain."

But she said key target dates, such as vaccinating all over-70s by mid-February, may have to be "refined" as her government's understanding of vaccine supplies changes.

"Pfizer has just rephased its supply over the next few months, so over this month and next month we will have fewer doses from Pfizer. We will have the same overall, but the phasing will be different," she said.

"Is Ruth Davidson seriously suggesting that in the face of a change such as that, a Government should not refine its estimates of when it will be able to deliver vaccine into people’s arms? If she is suggesting that, that is ludicrous, to be perfectly honest."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are actively working to resolve any issues raised with us and will be happy to discuss with the BMA. We are grateful for suggestions from GPs and we will consider the proposal.

“This is a national vaccination plan, delivered locally, and health boards are an important part of ensuring vaccine supply reaches vaccinators.”