'Lancashire can't afford to lose out on vaccine supplies'

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A leading Lancashire politician says that the county’s deep-rooted health inequalities mean it is vital that vaccine supplies are not diverted to other parts of the country.

Lancashire County Council’s opposition Labour group leader Azhar Ali is calling for an emergency meeting of the authority so that members can call on the Prime Minister personally to reverse a move to cut the North West’s current level of supply by around third in the coming weeks.

The Health Service Journal reported on Tuesday that the region will see delivered doses drop from 310,000 this week to around 200,000 in the second week of February in order to target supplies at areas with a greater proportion of people left to vaccinate in the first four priority groups before the government’s 15th February deadline.

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At a meeting of the Greater Preston and Chorley and South Ribble clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) on Wednesday afternoon, director of quality and performance Helen Curtis said that while the county has “the facility to give the vaccine, the vaccine supply isn’t necessarily going to be what we would like so see”.

County Cllr Azhar Ali, Labour opposition group leader on Lancashire County Council, and Angie Ridgwell, the authority's chief executiveCounty Cllr Azhar Ali, Labour opposition group leader on Lancashire County Council, and Angie Ridgwell, the authority's chief executive
County Cllr Azhar Ali, Labour opposition group leader on Lancashire County Council, and Angie Ridgwell, the authority's chief executive

County Cllr Ali said it would be a “crazy decision” to shift stocks elsewhere just because the North West – and Lancashire and South Cumbria in particular – was managing to get through so many people so quickly.

“There is a massive North-South divide as it is in health – we have got huge child poverty, a high proportion of older people with underlying health conditions and we have got a lower overall life expectancy.

“Does that mean people who are over 80 and waiting for their second jab in 12 weeks won’t get it – or that vulnerable people who have been shielding are not going to get their jabs [as soon as they might have]?

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“That is going to put more pressure on the NHS and cost more lives in Lancashire,” said County Cllr Ali, who wants the emergency council meeting within a week.

Pressed on whether he thought that supplies should be distributed so that all parts of the country could vaccinate their most vulnerable residents first, rather than some areas surging ahead into lower priority groups, he added:

“If it’s down to supply, then the government shouldn’t have made false promises that they were going to vaccinate so many people by such and such a time.

“They have signed deals with all these companies and it’s up to the government to get the logistics right and get these supplies in.”

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A motion to be put forward at the proposed council meeting – which has so far received the backing of the leaders of the Liberal Democrat Green groups asks County Hall’s chief executive Angie Ridgwell to write to Boris Johnson, demanding that Lancashire’s supplies are not reduced.

Ms. Ridgwell has already released a strongly-worded statement in which she makes similar points about Lancashire’s health inequalities and the need to move beyond the first four priority groups – care home residents and staff, frontline NHS and social care workers, the extremely clinical vulnerable and the over-70s – into those under-70’s with multiple underlying health conditions as soon as possible.

She said that the county’s “phenomenal” vaccine rollout to date must not be allowed to make the county “a victim of its own success”.

Conservative county council leader Geoff Driver said: “The chief executive has already written in the strongest possible terms objecting to the decision to reduce the number of vaccine supplies to Lancashire.

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“As ever, just like his party leader, County Cllr Ali is behind the curve, but cannot resist the temptation to try and score cheap party political points.”

The Local Democracy Reporting Service understands that the emergency debate on the motion is likely to be scheduled for the same day as County Hall’s budget meeting, 11th February.

An NHS North West spokesperson said: “The North West is being fully supplied with all the vaccinations needed to offer vaccination to everyone across the region aged 70 and above, as well as clinically extremely vulnerable patients, and health and social care staff. Our job is to get them vaccinated by mid-February so targeted deliveries are being made to areas where there are more people left to vaccinate in the priority cohorts.”

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