DENTAL leaders in Scotland have demanded a full investigation amid claims pharmacists rigged NHS booking systems to monopolise lucrative Covid vaccinator shifts.

It is alleged a group of eight employees used bots – computer software that performs repetitive tasks – to book multiple shifts at the NHS Louisa Jordan Hospital in Glasgow as soon as they were advertised.

Some are said to have passed on shifts to colleagues during the scam, which is said to have been going on for months.

At one point, pharmacists could expect to earn up to £700 for a 12-hour shift, the same rate as doctors and dentists. 

“Anyone who has gamed the system is beneath contempt.”

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde confirmed it is investigating “anomalies” in the booking system.

The British Dental Association claimed the booking scandal and vaccine supply issues had led to dentists in Glasgow struggling to secure shifts.

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Robert Donald, chairman of the BDA’s Scottish Council, called for an investigation “with no stone unturned” and added: “Anyone who has gamed the system is beneath contempt.”

The BDA has suggested the situation in Glasgow contributed to a decision to downgrade pharmacist payments, but this has been denied by the Scottish Government.

Pharmacist shifts rates were changed in late March from £231 per 3.5-hour shift to Band 5 rates of £15 per hour due to a “misunderstanding” over contract guidelines, but the change did not affect dentists and doctors.

About 160 pharmacists were registered to provide vaccinations but the pay change is said to have led to lower uptake and a shortage of vaccinators.

According to the BDA, dentists in Glasgow were sent text messages yesterday afternoon urging them to help out with immunisations but most were unable to assist because they were in practice. 

READ MORE: Clinically vulnerable patients among those waiting 14 weeks for Covid booster 

The NHS Louisa Jordan Hospital closed at the end of March, with mass vaccinations moved to The Hydro. 

The BDA said it had been seeking urgent talks with the Scottish Government about shifts availability but said discussions were delayed due to pre-election purdah rules.

A spokeswoman for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said: "We would like to thank all those involved in the highly successful rollout of the vaccination programme across NHSGGC. 

“We have a large bank of staff vaccinators to call on. 

“We have been made of aware of some anomalies in the way some shifts were being booked and these are currently under investigation. Shifts are made available to all vaccinators to book at the same time. 

“Strict security and identification protocols are in place at NHS Louisa Jordan for all staff entering the building.” 

The Herald contacted the union that represents pharmacists – The Pharmacists’ Defence Association – but no one responded to our request for comment.

It is the latest row to engulf Scotland’s Covid vaccinations taskforce.

In March, nurses complained they had been left feeling “hacked off” and undervalued when they discovered that independent contractor colleagues were being paid nearly five times as much.

The discrepancy arose out of a misunderstanding around the term “independent contractor”.

READ MORE: Hospitality sector hits out at Scottish Government after Glasgow level freeze 

The £231 per session rate was originally agreed by the Scottish Government as a payment to independent enterprises such as pharmacies – which contract 
their services to the NHS – to compensate them for giving up a member of their team to work part-time at vaccination hubs.

The rate was never intended to be paid on an individual basis to locums, who have no overheads or business costs.

However, the message became confused as vaccinator recruitment was devolved to health boards and locum pharmacists, dentists, optometrists and GPs began being hired as “independent contractors” on £231 per session.

The Scottish Government intervened to correct the arrangement after community pharmacy owners complained of staff shortages as locum pharmacists cancelled shifts to work as vaccinators instead.

Locum dentists, GPs, and optometrists are continuing to receive the higher rate, however.

Robert Donald chairman of the BDA said: “Scotland is returning to something resembling normality thanks to the vaccination programme.

“Anyone who has gamed the system is frankly beneath contempt.

“We urge the authorities to leave no stone unturned to uncover the facts at NHS Louisa Jordan.”

The BDA has suggested a decision to downgrade pharmacist pay rates was linked to booking anomalies in Glasgow. 

However the Scottish Government denied any suggestion of a link was false.