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CORRIDORS OF POWER: Edward Mountain MSP argues that a lack of communication on Covid could lead to lower vaccination booster rates than NHS Highland has enjoyed with first and second programmes

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Edward Mountain MSP.
Edward Mountain MSP.

As we now approach Winter, the last thing anyone wants to see are setbacks in the rollout of the flu and Covid-19 booster vaccination programmes, writes Highlands and Islands MSP Edward Mountain

In the last twelve months, Highlanders have played their part in combating the pandemic by taking up the offer of two Covid-19 doses and, as I write this article, coverage stands at 91.5 per cent across the NHS Highland area.

That is an impressive rate of vaccination and could not have been achieved without the help and expertise of our rural GP practices.

It is therefore disappointing to read recent reports about NHS Highland not liaising with these same rural GP practices in the rollout of Covid boosters or flu vaccines.

That has left some elderly residents in remote areas having to travel long distances to either Inverness or Wicks for their jabs. This is shocking and NHS Highland need to up their game.

Many will be wondering how this problem arose in the first place, especially given the effectiveness of the delivery of the first two jabs across the Highlands.

The root of the problem stems from new GP contract, which was negotiated by the Scottish Government and the BMA in 2018.

At the time, I raised deep concerns that this contract was designed to suit the central belt rather than GP practices serving our remote rural communities.

Not only would rural GP practices face potential reductions in funding, but they would also lose responsibility for delivering immunisation programmes.

Instead, it was agreed that vaccinations would gradually move away from the model based on local GP delivery to one based on centralising delivery through dedicated teams overseen by NHS Boards. NHS Highland are honouring this agreement in the covid booster rollout and therein lies the problem.

The warning signs were there prior to the pandemic but the Scottish Government ignored them.

Indeed, Prof Phil Wilson, Director of Aberdeen University’s Centre for Rural Health warned in late 2019 that: “under the new contract, I can’t see a health board administered system being able to deliver immunisation rates as high as they are currently in rural areas.”

If only the Scottish Government had heeded that old saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Alas, they didn’t, and my mailbag continues to be full of letters from constituents who are struggling to secure either their Covid booster or flu vaccine in their local area.

Frankly, this whole sorry saga proves again why the GP contract is not working for our rural communities. This is why this SNP Scottish Government needs to accept that the new contract is flawed and that what might work in Glasgow and Edinburgh doesn’t work in the Highlands.

The issue of course is whether the SNP will acknowledge they have made a mistake or whether they will continue to deny their failings.

READ: 'Experienced and effective public sector leader appointed to new vice-principal role' University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) appoints Vicki Nairn

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