Scotland’s slow roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine is down to a centralised bottleneck, according to a senior Nationalist. Mark Shaw, whose wife is a GP, was operations director for Yes Scotland during the referendum campaign in 2014, so he is hardly anti-SNP or a raving Unionist.
Nicola Sturgeon has angrily rejected claims that there is a problem with the Scottish government’s handling of the vaccination problem, accusing the UK government that ordered the vaccines (giving Britain a huge head start ahead of the EU the SNP wants to rejoin) of having a “hissy fit.” The vaccine roll-out has been slower in Scotland than England, though, and Scottish GPs are reportedly complaining that supplies are not getting to them on the ground, even though they have been delivered by the UK government.
Shaw’s digging has produced what he says is the explanation. SNP ministers opted for centralised control (again) and did not devolve authority to GPs, in contrast to the plan being used in England.
“Why is Scotland not vaccinating quickly enough? Here’s why… England is delivering vaccines through an ‘Enhanced Service’ procedure which means the vaccine rollout is GP-led. They were told in November to self-organise into vaccine delivery units, generally aligned to Primary Care Networks.”
He points his Twitter followers (including Nicola Sturgeon and former First Minister Alex Salmond) to the the enhanced service definition for England that was first published on 1 December.
“It leverages GP resources and knowledge to deliver all aspects,” he says, “with central support, not just central command.”
Shaw goes on:
“By contrast, in Scotland ,rather than delegate and resource GPs, we are maintaining a centralised system, which seems to add delay. GPs are not able to directly manage, predict and administer the programme. It is not GP-led. The Scottish rollout plan was published on 14 Jan.”
He explains that Clause 3 of that plan relates to supply, and has 2 extra layers compared to English system.
“GPs in England are leading local roll-out, and making decisions. Our GPs are at the end of the decision chain.”
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That is, he acknowledges, clearly a good thing if the vaccine gets rolled out as quickly as possible to those who want it. But it doesn’t appear to be working.
“Vaccine number published showed 490,000 doses in Scotland before 4th January. GPs are not getting supplies, qualified (or not) volunteers are not being used, resources are not being deployed, and the problem is clearly systemic, based on choices made. A centralised bottleneck… That is the issue, and needs fixed asap. We need to be as effective as a comprehensive GP-led distributed system of rollout, and instead seem to have a centralised bottleneck. If we are in this together, everyone needs to perform.”
The roll-out in England is not without its problems either. The number of jabs has fallen this week after surging in the last fortnight and nerves are frayed. It may be down to the authorities in England trying to ensure more care home residents and workers are vaccinated, as has been the initial priority in Scotland.
But Shaw’s calmly-delivered case – and bravery in highlighting the problem – pinpoints what critics regard as a central flaw in Sturgeon’s administration, a reliance on a control freak approach and an inability to devolve responsibility.
Let’s hope the Scottish government is willing to take advice – from Shaw, and perhaps even from… England – on how to make rapid improvements and then get vaccinating faster.