Local Labour and Conservative MSPs have reacted to hopes for a Covid-19 vaccine by raising fears that it might be less available in the Highlands and Islands than elsewhere.
Shadow Health Secretary Donald Cameron sought reassurances from the Scottish Government that any Covid vaccine will be made equally available across Scotland, including the Highlands and Islands.
Questioning Health Secretary Jeane Freeman on Thursday (November 19) in the Scottish Parliament, the Highlands and Islands MSP referred to ongoing problems with the roll-out of the winter flu immunisation programme and the challenge of delivering the Covid vaccine to dispersed populations in rural and island communities.
Speaking later Mr Cameron said: “Given the issues that arose with the roll-out of the winter flu immunisation programme, with widespread confusion over appointments in some areas, people will be worried that similar problems may arise with the Covid vaccine.
“Delivering the vaccine to my region, with its unique geography, will be a challenge and it’s critically important that the Scottish Government has plans in place to ensure we don’t get left behind.
“The UK Government has done its bit by securing hundreds of millions of vaccine doses. It’s now the job of SNP ministers to ensure we can all take advantage of the vaccine, and that special consideration is given to staff and residents in care homes.
And another Highlands and Islands MSP, Labour’s Rhoda Grant MSP also raised concerns in Parliament on Thursday 19 November that people in remote and rural Highlands & Islands will have less access to the Covid-19 vaccine when it becomes available.
Speaking to the chamber and addressing the Cabinet Secretary Jeane Freeman, Mrs Grant said: “The cabinet secretary will be aware that many of my constituents cannot access Covid-19 testing simply because of where they live. Can she give them the reassurance that they will receive the vaccine regardless of where they live? They really need a reassurance that they are not going to be left behind.”
Mrs Freeman replied: “It is entirely for GPs to volunteer to do the vaccine, so the GPs and the practice nurse and other clinical teams are very welcome to be involved in this programme, we have reached an agreement with the British Medical Association on financial reimbursement for them to do that.
“The assurance I give is that we will do everything that we can to ensure that every citizen in Scotland who is eligible for this vaccine, so that’s all adults over the age of 18, is able to be vaccinated whether that be we take it to their own home or via a mobile unit.”
Mrs Freeman added that a number of mobile testing units would be set up across the constituency.
Speaking afterwards Mrs Grant said: “I was grateful for the reassurances I was given in chamber today and I will be delighted to see these mobile testing centres. People in many parts of my constituency have certainly had to be patient.
“However, despite the cabinet secretary’s encouraging words, the real fear for many will be that the struggle to access a test will be mirrored by a new struggle to access the vaccine. I will be doing all that I can to point out to the government the nature of our remote and rural communities to make sure that she fully understands.”
Mrs Grant last week highlighted that there were large swathes of the Highlands and Islands where ordering a Covid-19 home testing kit was a useless exercise because of delays in the postal delivery and collection system.
Prompted by constituents saying they could not receive home tests, she asked the Scottish Parliament’s Information Centre to research a list of all areas where tests could not be delivered.
The independent research uncovered that people in Inverness and Moray were covered, but large areas were not including postcodes on the Western Isles, Orkney, Shetland, Argyll and Bute, Caithness, Sutherland, Ross and Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch.