4. This is from someone who wants to be a vaccinator:
“I am currently entering week five of the recruitment process, with a possible induction start date for the 10th of February subject to Occupational Health clearance, with further online training required.”
He has been a senior registered professional in the national health service for 30 years, but he is still required to go through the extensive NHS recruitment process all over again. He asks:
“why did the recruitment process only really get going in December when it was clear that mass vaccination was on its way by late Summer?”
I want to know why it is taking six weeks to get experienced NHS staff ready to vaccinate. Why did the process start so late? Are those some of the reasons why we are still so far behind the rest of the United Kingdom on the vaccine roll-out?
The answers, in order, are no, no and no. Right now we have more than 9,000 vaccinators registered on the national vaccination management tool. We are working towards having the capacity, by the end of this month, to do 400,000 doses a week. That requires a daily workforce of around 1,700 whole-time equivalent vaccinators and 970 support staff, so we have already identified and registered the numbers that we need in order to deliver the programme at the scale that we need.
On the process that people have to go through, as with people who are asking questions about their vaccination appointment, if there are cases that any member wishes us to look into, we are happy to do that. I am obviously not a clinician, and I am not saying that it is the most complicated clinical process known to us, but equally it is not something that should be treated lightly.
There is a process to go through, which varies depending on whether someone has previous vaccination experience. Some people will have done flu vaccinations every year, so their training requirements will be much less; others might have lots of clinical experience but might never have vaccinated someone before. From the point of view of safety, it is right that we train people appropriately. We have taken steps, as have health boards, to streamline the training process as much as possible—we do not want unnecessary bureaucracy—but if we did not do so and there were then patient safety incidents because we had people carrying out vaccinations who had not gone though the right processes, I have a sneaky suspicion that one of the first people who would be up here criticising us for that might just be Willie Rennie.
Dearie me. That it is taking six weeks to register an NHS professional does not sound like progress to me, especially when they have had 30 years’ experience in senior positions.
Pennywell all care centre has been designated as a vaccination hub, because it is located in the middle of one of Scotland’s most deprived communities. Scottish Liberal Democrats have learned from local general practitioners that appointments there have been given to people from elsewhere but that people from Muirhouse who can see the building from their living-room front window are being sent to Edinburgh international conference centre, which is two bus journeys away. That makes no sense to those doctors, who think that such an approach is bound to have an impact on the uptake of the vaccine. The First Minister knows that that is also happening elsewhere. What on earth is going on with the appointments system?
Even if I do not always respond in a way that suggests that I think so, Willie Rennie often asks very legitimate questions. However, I have to say that I am not sure about those ones. I will take him through them.
Let us talk first about the training of vaccinators. For someone with previous vaccination experience the process takes about three and a half hours. There will be people with lots of clinical experience who do not have previous experience of vaccinating, for whom the process will, rightly, take longer.
Willie Rennie’s proposition seems to be founded on the idea that because the process is supposedly so long and bureaucratic, we do not have enough people to do it. We have 9,000 people already registered on the vaccination management tool. As we reach the capacity for giving 400,000 doses a week, we will require about 1,700 people. We have lots of people registered, and there is absolutely no suggestion that a lack of vaccinators is an issue in the delivery of the programme.
I turn to the geographical issue. I do not pretend to know in detail every part of the geography of Scotland, but I stress that we must prioritise. We cannot have GPs carrying out the whole programme. Given its scale, if we were to ask them to do so they would not have time to see patients for any other reason, which would not be good or sensible. We are therefore trying to prioritise GPs’ time. Health boards will be taking different approaches to that, based on their experiences and their geographies. However, the position is largely that older and more vulnerable people will be seen by GPs whereas younger, fitter people will be asked to go to the bigger vaccination centres. Therefore sometimes people will be asked to go to a centre that is further away than their own GP practice. However, that is so that we can get through more people more quickly, which I thought was what everyone here wanted right now.
Lastly, Willie Rennie said that all that must be having an impact on uptake. We have record-high uptake figures right now. We have vaccinated 98 per cent of people in care homes, which admittedly represents a different model. However, if someone had told me just a few weeks ago that we would now be at the stage of having vaccinated 90 per cent of over-80s—that we would have even got close to such an uptake figure—I would have struggled to believe it. The evidence does not say that anything that we are doing is depressing uptake; on the contrary, so far the uptake for the programme has been brilliant. That is a real tribute to the people in our communities who want to come forward to help in our collective national effort to beat Covid.