Shingles can be a particularly severe illness. Many people are affected by the chronic pain that can develop after having it. The vaccine that we are introducing has been shown to reduce the incidence of shingles in older adults, as well as the persistent pain that often develops following the illness.
There are around 7,000 general practitioner consultations for shingles each year in Scotland. The programme will offer protection against shingles to those who are especially vulnerable and should help to reduce the number of GP consultations each year.
Further to my question on the matter last year, I am pleased that the vaccine has been introduced. Does the minister agree with Professor Adam Finn of the University of Bristol that we are
“getting close to the point where we have the best vaccination programme in the world”?
Vaccine uptake rates in Scotland are consistently high. That is in no small part thanks to the concerted effort that has been made over a number of years to raise awareness of the importance of being vaccinated against a number of different conditions. Our vaccination uptake rates are rightly attracting attention from other countries, but we cannot afford to take them for granted.
We are putting significant resource into ensuring that the new and extended vaccination programme that will be introduced in the coming months will be effective and will be maintained, if not improved, and that uptake rates will be as they have been over the past few years. NHS Scotland has the experience and expertise to build on the strong foundations that have been laid by our vaccination programme, and to improve on it in the years to come.
The minister will be aware of my support for extension of the vaccination programme. Is he also aware of comments by Alan McDevitt, who is chair of the British Medical Association’s Scottish general practitioners committee, who has expressed concern about the ability of GPs to deliver vaccination programmes without significant support from other health staff, including school nurses, health visitors and district nurses? What specific action is being taken to release nurses to participate in the shingles vaccination programme and in other extremely important vaccination programmes?
I am aware of Dr Alan McDevitt’s recent comments—I believe in The Scotsman newspaper—in relation to the extended vaccination programme. The majority of the work that will follow from the extended vaccination programme will fall to NHS Scotland; a smaller proportion of it will fall to general practices. We are working with NHS boards and the Scottish GPs committee to consider what further additional measures are necessary to ensure the required support for delivery of what is at present a very successful vaccination programme. I have no doubt that it will be in our interests to build on it and to ensure that the extended programme is successful.