Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) is leading the global battle against Covid-19 thanks to its nationwide database, healthcare network and commitment to equality.
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This was the conclusion of Thailand’s ambassador to the UK, speaking in a recent interview.
Thai Ambassador Pisanu Suvanajata arrived in London four years ago and promptly registered with the NHS. The publicly funded healthcare system provides universal and free healthcare access to all UK residents – including foreigners.
As a beneficiary of the NHS, he has occasionally visited the local community clinic and consulted with a general practitioner or GP. He found the NHS is an effective health insurance system that makes healthcare services affordable and accessible while standing strong as the UK’s defence against the Covid-19 pandemic.
Founded in 1948, the NHS is a blueprint for countries aiming to achieve Universal Healthcare Coverage. Thailand adopted the NHS model when it introduced its Universal Coverage Scheme in 2002.
The NHS is also the central mechanism of the UK government's Covid-19 vaccination programme, as Pisanu noted in a recent briefing with Thailand’s National Health Security Office.
The UK government aims to offer vaccination to every resident adult by the end of July. As of March 15, more than 24 million UK residents had received their first jab and over 1.6 million their second.
“When I first arrived here, I had to register with the NHS and have a medical check-up,” recalled Pisanu.
His information – including address, phone number, and health conditions – is kept in the NHS database. The database became crucial for the UK government in running the vaccination programme starting from December 8 last year.
“Because it [the NHS] has the database, it can reach individuals through SMS to notify them of their vaccine appointment,” Pisanu said.
The message says there is no need to reply if you are available on the scheduled appointment date.
“If you are not available, you text back with ‘No’ and someone will reschedule your vaccine appointment and send another SMS,” said Pisanu, who recently received his first vaccine dose.
Vaccination is provided at neighbourhood health units. Those who arrive punctually do not need to wait in a queue.
It takes about 15 seconds to receive the jab and another 15 minutes to monitor for any side effects. Appointments are automatically made for each vaccine recipient to return 10 weeks later to get their second dose.
Around seven million UK residents per month have been vaccinated since the programme was launched.
“The UK can speed up vaccination because it has data and uses appropriate technology such as SMS – which is the simplest but most effective [communication] and very practical.”
A ‘spiderweb’ health network
Covid-19 vaccination is also offered in some hospitals and pharmacies, as well as at local clinics run by GPs and at larger vaccination centres.
“The NHS system builds a spiderweb-like network of health facilities and pharmacies. There are seven centres which distribute vaccines to thousands of community clinics and medical centres across the country,” said Pisanu.
“People are vaccinated at health facilities not more than 10 miles (16 kilometres] from their home. I think this is the right approach. The vaccination programme should take into account convenience for people. This also encourages people to come for vaccination,” the ambassador added.
The vaccine programme benefits from a community health network made up of general practitioners, pharmacists, and the private sector. The NHS established the network to prevent overcrowding at hospitals.
"You can get a prescription from a general practitioner at a community clinic, then go to a pharmacy such as Boots and get your medicine,” Pisanu said.
The medical data of patients are usually shared between clinics and pharmacies.
“You can go straight to the pharmacy and buy drugs at affordable prices too. Postal delivery of medicines is also available.”
“The engagement of the private sector in the health system is based on mutual benefit sharing. [A profit-making] pharmacy such as Boots can sell health products and also dispense drugs covered by the NHS.”
The UK health system also engages trained volunteers who assist in running several health programmes, including Covid-19 vaccination.
‘Glue’ for social unity
“The health system here treats humans with equality. Every resident will get the coronavirus vaccines regardless of their race and nationality as long as they have registered with the NHS. Meanwhile, members of the society cooperate with each other to get through the crisis,” observed Pisanu.
“The UK government also implements an effective communication strategy and educates people to understand the safety and effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines regardless of their manufacturers.”
The government provides residents with free Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine imported from Belgium and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured in the UK.
Pisanu received the Pfizer-BioNTech jab, while his wife was given Oxford-AstraZeneca.
The vaccination programme also has a role to play in restoring national unity after Britain’s divisive move to leave the European Union.
“The UK government must strengthen social confidence as a result of Brexit,” said the ambassador.
He also noted that the UK will host the G-7 meeting and COP-26 Climate Change Conference in November this year.
But thanks to its clear objective and practical strategy, the UK government has an effective road map to reopen the country, said Pisanu.
“Integral to this road map is a vaccination plan that rests on the principle of free and equal access to vaccines,” he added.