GPs fail to provide swine flu jabs for under-5s
The inoculations are supposed to be rolled out to children between the ages of six months and five years in January, but the failure of the government to strike a payments deal with doctors has led to many GPs opting out of the programme.
Health professionals have suggested that the confusion surrounding the availability of the injection may expose youngsters to the deadly illness as the country braces itself for a third wave of swine flu in the first few weeks of 2010. The swine flu virus has so far been linked to 58 deaths in Scotland.
Scotland on Sunday can reveal that none of the 106 GP practices in the NHS Highlands area has yet indicated if they intend to take part in the children's vaccination programme. In NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, about 100 of 280 GP practices have yet to sign up.
About a quarter of the 69 GP practices in the NHS Tayside area have also still to commit to providing under-fives with the jab. NHS Grampian would only say it expected a "substantial" number of its 90 practices to sign up.
Doctors in the Lothians are waiting for a formal announcement confirming an agreement with their health board that will see them receive the money to pay the extra nurses and health visitors needed to vaccinate youngsters.
Health boards whose GPs have opted out of the programme must set up their own clinics to administer an inoculation programme. But doctors' leaders are questioning whether the nurses, who will have to be brought in to treat children at health board clinics, are adequately trained to give the injections.
"We are aware that not all practices will be doing this," said Dr Dean Marshall, the chairman of the BMA's Scottish general practitioners' committee and a BMA negotiator on flu planning.
"It doesn't seem that there is a sensible alternative. A lot of health visitors and nurses don't necessarily want to do this, because a lot of them are not trained to do it or are not used to vaccinating children."
The current confusion has its origins in the failure of government officials from the four UK administrations to reach a deal with doctors over payments.
In return for delivering the jab to children, doctors wanted a concession on the target that states GPs must see patients within 48 hours.
Achieving that target is linked to practices' funding. Overstretched doctors argued that the extra workload of vaccinating hundreds of children could result in them missing the 48-hour target and therefore their practices being penalised financially.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: "As we have made very clear, while we have not been able to reach a UK-wide deal with GPs to deliver this vaccination, health boards are putting in place their own arrangements.
"This can involve the use of GPs or public health staff employed by health boards and we are confident that the vaccination programme will proceed smoothly."
'I just want to knock heads together and get vaccinations started'
I HAVE a three-year-old boy. He has had a wonderful Christmas. But at the back of my mind is that one sharp worry: swine flu.
I can only imagine how bad it must be to sit and watch your little two or three-year-old hooked up to tubes and monitors, not knowing whether your child is going to pull through. It must be even worse to know that your son or daughter should have been immunised but wasn't because our health administrators were too busy arguing over logistics.
We were told the vaccination programme would start in mid-December and be completed by mid-January. Yet here we are, four days away from the new year and, like hundreds of thousands of parents around the country, I have heard nothing from my GP about when my boy will get the jag.
The infrastructure is there, the expertise is there, the records are there; why can't the swine flu jag be added to the list that practice nurses already administer?
As a parent, I just want to knock heads together and get this started, and not just for my peace of mind, for my son's health.