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Government intends NHS to ‘facilitate international travel’ in Covid-certification scheme

by Jess Hacker
7 April 2021

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The NHS is intended to help facilitate non-essential international travel where certification of vaccination is required, the Government has said.

In its latest roadmap review of plans to ease Covid-19 restrictions, published on Monday (5 April), the government said the NHS is currently working on ‘providing individuals with the means to demonstrate their Covid status’.

It said: ‘The current intention is that, when non-essential international travel does resume, the NHS solution will facilitate international travel where certification is required, and we will look to establish arrangements with other countries and international organisations to establish mutual recognition of certificates.’

The Government said a Global Travel Taskforce will publish its plan for a ‘risk-based “traffic light” system’ when non-essential international travel does return, no earlier than 17 May.

It said: ‘The vaccination programme could offer a more stable route out of the need for such restrictions – provided we see sufficient efficacy against any variants of concern – which means the role of Covid-status certification is crucial to this work.

A Covid-status scheme could ‘potentially play a role in settings such as theatres, nightclubs, and mass events’, the review said, but not in services such as public transport and essential shops.

‘Zero impact’ on GP workload

Last week, the Royal College for General Practitioners (RCGP) warned that any Covid-vaccine certification scheme must not impact GP workload, and should also take into account unequal access to vaccinations.

In its submission to the Government’s review, the College called for general practice to be consulted during ‘all stages of the development’ of such a scheme to make sure it did not worsen GP workload.

The document said: ‘Any system put into place for vaccination certificates should have a zero-impact on GP workload and thus ensure GPs can focus fully on patient care.’

It noted that while initial plans appear to use NHS Digital data processing services, alternative solutions for those without digital access must be developed to keep workload down.

It would also need to outline solutions for any digital inequalities or data security concerns related to the NHS App or any other digital platform that is used.

Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the RCGP, said: ‘GPs and our teams are currently working incredibly hard delivering the Covid-19 vaccination programme alongside the usual care and services our patients rely on.

‘While the College is not necessarily opposed to the introduction of some sort of opt-in proof of vaccination document to allow for international travel, it must not become the role of GPs and our teams to issue these. It would not be sensible for GPs, or any other members of the practice team, to spend their time on cumbersome red tape that will take them away from patient care.’

The RCGP also suggested that such a scheme would need to consider how lower uptake in some BAME communities and lower income groups might impact people’s access to services or venues.

Professor Marshall said that measures would ‘need to be introduced to minimise the risk of widening health inequalities’, including alternative, digital-free proof of vaccination or a solution for those who cannot receive the vaccine.