The covid-19 vaccination programme in Scotland is to be led by health boards, rather than GPs, in a departure from the approach being taken in England.
Announcing the news that vaccinations could start from December, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said NHS Boards will lead local delivery as part of a national programme.
GPs will play a key supporting role, a move welcomed by the British Medical Association Scotland given the “shortages of GPs in Scotland and the huge pressures on their time”.
NHS England has however placed more of an emphasis on family doctors, who will set up as many as 1,500 vaccination hubs.
The news prompted concerns that some English surgeries would have to cut back on routine services to focus on vaccinations.
Royal College of GPs UK chair Professor Martin Marshall called for “clarity on what work we should stop doing in order to create capacity to deliver the covid vaccination programme”.
In contrast, speaking in the Scottish Parliament about the approach in Scotland, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “NHS Boards will then lead local delivery, identifying acceptable and accessible locations, both for mass vaccination and for local access.
“Taking account of their population and geography, they will undertake recruitment and deployment of staff, and the management of local vaccination clinics.”
The Scottish government would be running national training, procurement and data-gathering, Ms Freeman said.
She added that a “national booking service” would be introduced in the second phase of vaccinations, thought to be early next year.
A similar service used for the first time this year for the flu jab has been hit by technical difficulties, prompting a series of NHS boards to apologise for delays and disruption.
It comes as Scotland is half-way through a national Vaccination Transformation Programme introduced after responsibility for routine vaccination programmes was taken away from Scottish GP practices during contract renegotiations, and given to NHS boards.
The covid vaccination delivery plans have been welcomed by the British Medical Association.
Dr Andrew Buist, chair of the organisation’s Scottish GP Committee, said: “GPs stand ready to play their part in delivering the programme and ensuring it is as accessible as possible with priority groups identified and vaccinated first.
“Given the shortages of GPs in Scotland and the huge pressures on their time, it was obviously not possible for GPs to run this programme single-handedly so I welcome the agreement we have reached that GPs will play a key role, while health boards will have overall responsibility for planning and delivery in their areas.”
Dr Buist added on Twitter that the model was “Health board led delivery with GPs engaged where best needed – such as frail elderly [patients] but balanced with our core role of managing the sick.”
Ms Freeman said other registered clinicians and the wider clinical workforce such as pharmacists, dentists, and optometrists, would be needed to help deliver the project, though no details were provided. The military will also provide logistical support, following their work to establish the NHS Louisa Jordan covid-19 hospital in Glasgow.
A spokesman for Community Pharmacy Scotland said it has had “initial discussions” with the Scottish government.
They said: “Undoubtedly along with other vaccinators the community pharmacy workforce will be asked to help in some capacity. We are working through what that might look like currently.
“It is also a fast-moving area with vaccine potentially coming out next month and while pharmacy is unlikely to be involved in the initial stages, in the new year I’m sure we’ll be expected to be involved as it will be an ambitious vaccination programme that will need support.”
Jonathan Burton recently called for pharmacies to become high street vaccination hubs – not only for flu and covid-19 but a range of other childhood and travel inoculations.
The law was changed this year to allow vaccination services to be delivered by healthcare professionals working outside GP practices. Community pharmacists have been asked to deliver flu vaccinations in some parts of Scotland, but not in others.
By Henry Anderson