The National:

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“It is thanks to our United Kingdom NHS that we are able to distribute a life-saving vaccine across the whole of our country” – Boris Johnson, statement to Parliament, January 6 2021.


There is no UK NHS – health and vaccination is devolved.


On January 6, 2021, the Prime Minister announced to the House of Commons the decision to impose a third total lockdown in England, including school closures, despite rejecting such action in the days prior. A lockdown in Scotland had previously been announced by the SNP Government at Holyrood.

The PM was questioned by SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford, who asked Johnson four pointed questions: What steps were being taking to ensure there were sufficient vials to transport Covid-19 vaccines; would further restrictions be placed on entry to the UK; would the Government provide financial aid for the self-employed during the new lockdown; and why was the Scottish Government being denied new Treasury funds to help businesses north of the Border during the new lockdown period?

The PM blustered on the first question and failed to mention how the availability of sufficient vials was being addressed. He ignored the travel ban issue. He ignored both the issue of lack of any support for the self-employed (which affects the whole of the UK) and the lack of new funds for Scottish business aid. 

READ MORE: Boris Johnson pushed on vanishing £375m lockdown cash promised to Scotland

Instead, Johnson criticised what he called “the general tenor” of Blackford’s questions, despite the fact that the SNP Westminster leader had asked for specific information. The PM then went on to say:

“…The mere fact that Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, every part of the United Kingdom has received the vaccine is entirely thanks to our national NHS … I make common ground with the right honourable gentleman opposite [Sir Keir Starmer] it is thanks to our United Kingdom NHS … that we are able to distribute a life saving vaccine across the whole of our country …”


The UK does not have a unified National Health Service. Health (and social) care is a devolved matter. NHS England, NHS Wales (GIG Cymru), and NHS Scotland provide these services in Great Britain. The health service in Northern Ireland is not even called the NHS, but the Health and Social Care Services (HSC).

READ MORE: FACT CHECK: 'SNP Government should top up £500 NHS bonus to make it tax-free'

All four services are publicly financed but there are differences in what is fully funded and what services are available. For example, NHS England asks some people to pay part of the cost of prescriptions while in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland these costs are free to the patient.

Because health is devolved so is vaccination policy, ie who gets vaccinated and in what order.


The PM is correct to a point that the British effort to develop an effective anti-Covid vaccine was coordinated at a UK level. This was done by a new body – the UK Vaccine Taskforce (aka VTF) set up in April 2020. The VTF was provided with an open Treasury budget to coordinate a university and industry drive to produce a vaccine as soon as possible.

The Taskforce was managed out of the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, with former investment banker Alok Sharma as the minister in charge. In May 2020, Sharma appointed entrepreneur and venture capitalist Kate Bingham as chair of the VTF, though she had no direct experience with vaccine development. Bingham’s husband is Tory MP Jesse Norman, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and so responsible for the Treasury’s budgeting.

The National:

Bingham’s time as head of VTF was controversial. In November 2020, the Sunday Times alleged she had shared "official sensitive" information about the VTF’s vaccine plans at a conference with private companies in the US. This market-sensitive information included a confidential list of 51 vaccines in development, naming those with highest chance of being ordered, the newspaper claimed.

Bingham was also criticised for appointing her own personal team of eight PR consultants, at a bill in excess of £670,000. The PR firm concerned had links to Dominic Cummings’s father-in-law. These revelations were followed swiftly by Bingham’s resignation from VTF, though she denied there was any connection. 


There does exist a UK-wide scientific body, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). This was established in 1963 and so pre-dates the pandemic. The JCVI has a statutory role in England and Wales, but the Scottish Government and Scottish NHS may choose to accept its advice or modify it, regarding best practice in vaccination policy. To date the Scottish Government has been content to follow JCVI advice on the new Covid vaccines.


Did the all-UK VTF add anything to the creation of a Covid vaccine? The evidence is weak. Clinical trials of the Pfizer–BioNTech Covid vaccine actually began in April 2020 before VTF got started. A template for the Oxford-AstraZenica vaccine was already available before the pandemic set in.

It now appears that the main issue in the UK is not the creation of the vaccine itself but the logistics of getting it to the patient. Here the early promises of the Prime Minister seem to have been over-optimistic. Meanwhile, other, smaller countries (eg Israel) have been far more effective in commencing actual vaccinations.


The National:

More bluster from Boris.