Health and Social Care

No First Minister, what we need now is a sprint

We have always known vaccines would be our best way out of the pandemic and the UK Conservative Government moved fast and early to make sure Britain led the way on vaccinations writes Andrew RT Davies.

This action allowed us to be the first country in the world to authorise a vaccine, secure access to 367 million doses and we’ve now authorised more vaccines than any country in the world.

It is a remarkable achievement and full credit must be given to UK ministers and the vaccination taskforce.

So far, the UK has administered over 3 million vaccinations – more than the rest of Europe combined.

The fast start has forced several commentators to eat humble pie given their doomsday predictions regarding the decision not to enter the European Union’s ailing vaccination scheme.

However, despite these early wins, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels.

That couldn’t be more true than here in Wales, where due to the incompetence of Labour ministers we are lagging behind the other home nations on the administration of doses.

Let’s be clear we’re not in competition with Northern Ireland, nor England or Scotland, but we are with the virus.

So to see Wales lagging behind our sister nations requires some pretty fast action to be explained and remedied.

This lacklustre approach to the rollout so far in Wales was typified by Mark Drakeford’s comments that this delivery, and I quote, was “not a sprint”. When we need Amazon Prime.

Well, I’m sorry First Minister but when thousands of lives and livelihoods are on the line and the Welsh public is dependent on you finding your running shoes pretty damn quick.

Yesterday’s figures showed the Welsh Labour Government has administered 113,094 doses, which is lower on a population basis than the rest of the UK. By comparison, 2.9 million doses have been issued in England, over 211,000 in Scotland and more than 120,000 in Northern Ireland.

Despite the plentiful provision, some separatists and Labour figures have tried to muddy the waters and spark division by claiming the UK Government is somehow inexplicably short-changing Wales.

They were soon corrected with the release of official figures that showed more than two thirds of doses allocated to Wales were sitting on refrigeration shelves.

That’s a damning failure of management and the blame lies nowhere else but solely at the feet of Labour ministers in Cardiff Bay, despite their feeble attempts to the contrary.

Before Christmas, the Welsh Conservatives outlined our vaccination plan and this week have reiterated our calls for a dedicated vaccines minister.

There’s no doubting the health minister has a lot on his plate managing all aspects of the coronavirus response but there are serious questions over competence and delivery.

In the autumn when Vaughan Gething faced similar struggles, the First Minister intervened and appointed a minister responsible for mental health to lighten the load.

It’s clear he needs more support and Mark Drakeford should again intervene and appoint someone whose every waking thought will be on the vaccination programme.

We need a government minister to have the single job of delivering the vaccine with the full resources of the Welsh Government alongside NHS Wales, GPs, Pharmacists and anyone else that can help.

We need to urgently cut red tape to enable retired or former NHS professionals to start giving the vaccine.

We need to urgently increase the number of mass vaccination centres (Gething’s plan ignores large swathes of Wales such as the Vale of Glamorgan, Pembrokeshire and Mid Wales) and move to a 24/7 operation as soon as possible.

And we need a vaccine army, backed up by our Armed Forces, to get the job done. These actions should’ve been taken at the start of December but it’s better late than never, and we cannot afford any more dither and delay in Cardiff Bay.

We can be under no illusion as to the scale of the challenge ahead, and it’s time for the Welsh Labour Government to inject some real urgency into the race.

Hardworking NHS staff are doing their utmost but the problems that have besieged the rollout in Wales so far stem from the top.

It is an issue of leadership and Labour ministers have been sadly caught in the blocks.

For the sake of lives and livelihoods across the country, it’s time for Labour ministers to get their act together and get this rollout moving at pace.

Andrew RT Davies is the Welsh Shadow Health Minister and a Member of the Senedd for South Wales Central.

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