SCOTLAND'S community pharmacists say they should be allowed to help meet vital flu vaccine targets to help ease pressure on NHS hospitals and GPs.

It comes as the latest figures show that the number of people suffering from flu in Scotland has more than doubled compared to the same period last year, increasing pressure on hospitals.

However, just over four in 10 (41 per cent ) of those aged under 65, who are considered “at risk”, have had their flu jab this winter.

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Uptake targets for both the 65 years and over group, and the under 65’s “at-risk” population are at 75 per cent, in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) targets.

Failure to come close to meeting vaccination targets for those more vulnerable “at risk” groups – including the elderly, young children and pregnant women – has caused concerns that a huge jump in flu cases has helped heap pressure on an already under-strain NHS.

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But Professor Harry McQuillan, chief executive of Community Pharmacy Scotland, said there has been a "missed opportunity" in not getting pharmacists to administer the vaccinations.

He said: "Most flu vaccines are still being administered via GP surgeries, by appointment or set clinic, and we can see in the numbers that we are nowhere near meeting targets even for those at risk groups eligible for free vaccinaton against flu.

“Around 800,000 people in Scotland visit their local pharmacy every day – and pharmacists are highly trained health professionals more than capable of administering the vaccination. Indeed, many pharmacies do offer the vaccination privately, usually for around £10. The logical solution is to allow community pharmacies to administer vaccinations on behalf of the NHS to complement existing arrangements in GP and primary care settings.

“We believe it is time to use the network of around 1250 community pharmacies, with their unparallelled footfall, to help ease the burden on our NHS colleagues. We can help drive towards achieving the targets and greatly reducing the huge additional pressure caused by flu on our NHS services at this time of year.”

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Around half of NHS Boards are reporting significant ward pressure as a result of the virus, Health Protection Scotland has said.

The flu vaccination uptake level among pregnant women with other risk factors is 57.5 per cent and 44 per cent in pregnant women without other risk factors, Health Protection Scotland (HPS) data showed.

Statistics last year showed that among at-risk under 65s, uptake has dipped 9.1 per cent over the past two years to 44.9 per cent.