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Scottish scheme gives vitamins to kids

Free vitamin supplements for children, pregnant women and new mothers on low incomes will now be more widely available to encourage greater uptake.

The Healthy Start scheme provides vitamin supplements to low income families, in addition to vouchers towards the cost of milk, fruit and vegetables.

Previously, vitamins were distributed through NHS Boards.  However, the average uptake of the scheme as a whole across Scotland was only 71 per cent, with the uptake of vitamin supplements being significantly lower.

In a drive to ensure that everyone who needs these vitamins receives them, community pharmacies will now be able to give eligible women and children Healthy Start vitamins directly.

The 1,246 community pharmacies and around 120 dispensing practices across Scotland have been asked to join the one year pilot.

Minister for Public Health Michael Matheson said:“There is a strong link between low income and poor nutrition in pregnant women, mothers and children.  As part of our work to address health inequalities in Scotland, we must make sure that everyone has access to all that is available.

“Vitamins are essential nutrients that help our bodies work properly. Even though we can get lots of vitamins from a healthy balanced diet, certain people still might not get everything they need at certain times in their life - such as pregnant women, a new mum or a small child.

“We know that some families have had difficulty accessing these vitamins in the past.  That is why we worked to identify a better way for these to be distributed, and I'm pleased to say that indications suggest the pilot using community pharmacies in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde was a success.

“By using community pharmacies, we will ensure a consistent, easily understood and sustainable method of distribution across Scotland for those in most need of these vitamins.”

Healthy Start women's vitamin tablets contain:

· Folic acid: reduces the chance of your baby having spina bifida, a birth defect where the spine doesn't form properly

· Vitamin C: helps maintain healthy tissue in the body

· Vitamin D: helps your body to absorb calcium and so supports your baby's bones to develop properly.

Healthy Start children's vitamin drops contain:

· Vitamin A: for growth, vision in dim light and healthy skin

· Vitamin C: helps maintain healthy tissue in the body

· Vitamin D: for strong bones and teeth.

The Healthy Start Scheme provides eligible families with vouchers that can be used in shops to help pay towards milk, formula milk, fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables.  The scheme also provides coupons to exchange for vitamin supplements.

Healthy Start vouchers and coupons are provided to pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and families and children up to their fourth birthday on income related benefits.  All young women who are under eighteen and pregnant are also eligible, regardless of income.

At a meeting with Healthy Start NHS Board leads, it was agreed that the preferred option for ensuring an effective distribution system was to agree a national remuneration scheme for community pharmacies.  This also ensures that community pharmacies are able to access Health Start vitamins from their own suppliers, rather than go through the NHS supply chain process.  

Data on the uptake of the vitamins by community pharmacy/Board area will be analysed looking at the impact of the trial.