Sturgeon under fire as vaccine rollout surges across UK but slows down in Scotland

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Dan Sanderson
·5 min read
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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during First Minster's Questions in the debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh - Jane Barlow/PA
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during First Minster's Questions in the debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh - Jane Barlow/PA

The rollout of coronavirus vaccines to elderly Scots has slowed down despite tens of thousands of extra doses being sent over the border, it has emerged.

The Daily Telegraph understands that a further 43,000 doses were delivered to Scotland on Thursday, bringing the total sent so far from UK stocks to around 637,000.

However, dispute assurances from Nicola Sturgeon that pace of the national vaccination programme was accelerating, around 1,400 fewer people were vaccinated on Thursday than on Wednesday, the second day in a row in which the daily total had fallen.

The slowdown came as a second professional body representing GPs suggested that the country’s system for sending out vaccines needs to be overhauled amid concerns that it is overly centralised, with "bottlenecks" blocking supplies to doctors.

Ian Cormack receives a dose of AstraZeneca coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine from Ruth Davies, a practice nurse, at the Pentland Medical Practice, in Currie -  Russell Cheyne/Reuters
Ian Cormack receives a dose of AstraZeneca coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine from Ruth Davies, a practice nurse, at the Pentland Medical Practice, in Currie - Russell Cheyne/Reuters

While Ms Sturgeon said on Friday that around 95 per cent of care home residents had received their first injection, only 34 per cent of over 80s outside of care homes have been vaccinated, a figure that lags behind the total in England, where the figure is 71 per cent.

Two thirds of care home residents have received a vaccine in England, with the rest expected to receive their first dose in the coming days.

Ms Sturgeon has attempted to explain the slower rollout in Scotland by citing a strategy of focusing on care home residents rather than those living in their own homes first. However, given a surplus of vaccine doses, critics have questioned why both groups can not be dealt with simultaneously.

UK Government sources have said that around 717,000 doses had been allocated to Scotand, from existing supplies. Around 637,000 of these have so far been sent to Scotland, with the remaining 80,000 in a storage facility in England and ready to be sent north as soon as the Scottish Government requests them.

As of yesterday morning, 358,454 people in Scotland had received a first dose of the vaccine, meaning there are around 360,000 spare doses available to the Scottish NHS.

However, family doctors have repeatedly complained that they have not been able to secure doses, meaning they have been unable to organise vaccination clinics.

“It is vital that GPs, and indeed all those who are vaccinating patients, have the tools that they need to deliver this programme successfully,” Dr David Shackles, Joint Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners Scotland, said.

“Uncertainty over when vaccine supplies will reach practices is causing considerable problems in terms of booking patients in for vaccines and scheduling clinics.

“We don't underestimate the challenge of planning a national, mass vaccination programme of this scale, however GPs need reassurances that when they schedule a vaccination clinic, they will have vaccine available to administer to patients and will not need to cancel or make changes at the last minute. We know that this is leading to a great deal of anxiety for patients, GPs and practice staff.”

He added: “When considering a solution to the supply challenges being faced, all options must be on the table to ensure that this can be overcome as quickly as possible. It is critical that any measures put in place do not undermine equity of access to vaccines for all patients."

His comments echo those of the BMA Scotland, which has called for the Scottish Government to "streamline" its process for distributing vaccines.

Health boards currently pass GPs' orders to NHS Scotland's National Procurement services, which in turn advises its "distribution partner", the healthcare firm Movianto.

Boris Johnson announced on Friday that a record 400,000 people across the UK had received a first dose within the previous 24 hours.

On Thursday, a further 23,585 people received their first dose in Scotland, down from 24,962 on Wednesday and 25,327 on Tuesday.

The Scottish Tories said that even using Ms Sturgeon’s provisional figure of 34 per cent of under 80s being vaccinated so far, her government was off course to hit its target of having all over 70s vaccinated by med-February.

The First Minister cited the provisional figure days after her officials refused to reveal how many people had been vaccinated on Sunday on the grounds that unverified data should not be released.

“The SNP’s vaccine rollout has been far too slow and key targets are in jeopardy as it stands,” Donald Cameron, health spokesman for the Scottish Tories, said.

“We are way off the pace and the latest figures are going in the wrong direction. Fewer vaccinations happened yesterday than the day before.”

He added: “Instead of listening to the GPs who are raising valid concerns that the vaccine is not reaching them quickly enough, the SNP are trying to spin official figures to hide that they’re lagging behind.”

Asked why the vaccine roll-out was slowing, Ms Sturgeon insisted it was speeding up among the over-80s group, despite her own figures showing an overall drop.

“The overall figure just now will take account of the fact that, although we are almost finished care homes, we are still doing care home vaccination which takes longer and is more labour intensive,” she said.

“If you look at the over 80s in the communities, we are seeing that speed up. The over 80s vaccination programme is picking up pace and will gather pace as we go through next week.”