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Democracy Health

Devolution and vaccines

“We need to ensure that our model of devolution works for everyone- which means that our political system needs to start pushing compatibility in policy terms towards the top of its agenda, with this occurring regardless of devolution”.

Jasneet Samrai

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Track and trace needs to take into account devolution to speed up contract tracing. Otherwise people end up being passed between governments unable to use the system properly.

Devolution needs to adapt where it doesn’t work. It’s why we need either a single NHS IT system or to ensure IT systems are compatible between countries.

The vaccine rollout has been a success for the government but not everyone could log their vaccinations. Its time the UK and devolved governments got together to solve this.

One of the main topics I have looked at throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been the impact that devolution has played throughout our response, with this period arguably being the biggest test of this system of government and whether it works. I have previously written about some of the issues that have been exacerbated by the existence of devolution, like vaccine access issues for people who have had to travel across our devolved borders. In the paper ‘Computer Says No’, I focused on this heavily- speaking to several people who did have had access issues, with these being the result of different NHS systems not being compatible across borders. This is a short follow up piece, with me highlighting that vaccine access issues are not the only consequence of devolution, but also issues with the current track and trace system.

The first thing that I would like to outline in this piece is that I do not believe that devolution shouldn’t have happened- or that it is something that we should get rid of. I firmly believe that it is beneficial to the people who live within our devolved nations and that it is them who should get to decide whether it stays or not. In Wales, I enjoy having devolution and I do feel a lot more represented than I did living just under the Westminster system. However, just because I like a model doesn’t mean that are not issues that need to be talked about and ways in which our political model need to improve.

One of the main problems with our current devolution settlement across the UK is the lack of communication between the four nations, especially when it comes to agreement and consistency within infrastructure. We already know that communication between the four nations can be shaky at times, with this being something that Mark Drakeford (the Welsh First Minister) has previously spoken about, and something that he has even committed to improving within his ‘Reforming our Union’ document. This lack of communication, and lack of collaboration, has led to huge issues with our infrastructure- these becoming apparent during COVID and through the implementation of our Track and Trace system.

At the moment, there are major inconsistencies between the systems. For example, if you’re like me and have an address in Wales, you automatically fall under the Welsh Track and trace system, even if you are isolating in another nation. This was a huge issue as I was unable to register the address I was staying at or the people who I had contacted, at the start of my infection. Instead, I had to wait for another government system in the correct nation to catch me, and they didn’t for a few days. This whole situation could have been avoided if I had been asked where I was isolating; or if each system plugged into the others so that everyone could be informed in a timely manner, considering that some people may have crossed borders. It isn’t just me that has had issues either, with some of my friends being unable to be contact traced effectively by the government as they are often unable to log contacts that live across borders without the help of the other nation, which takes time and needs to be done manually.

This is a similar situation to the vaccine access issue which we explored earlier this year, where computers and a lack of compatibility, have stopped people being able to receive their vaccines. This is due to data having to be manually logged from one system to another, and the inability of most healthcare professionals to be able to do this. It’s something that could have been avoided if the different computer systems were truly compatible and data was carried over automatically. In conclusion, devolution has caused discrepancies between our NHS systems due to it allowing different devolved areas to have different policies. As healthcare is devolved, governments will invest in different systems: yet with the UK having open borders and frequent travel between the different devolved areas, it is also essential that they are compatible. Regular communication between leaders may help to fix this issue, but we also need to ensure that our model of devolution works for everyone- which means that our political system needs to start pushing compatibility in policy terms towards the top of its agenda, with this occurring regardless of devolution.

Jasneet is the Deputy Director for Centre. They also worked as a campaign organiser and helped to elect 3 MEP’s.

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