The Government's handbrake-turn this week on exempting overseas NHS staff and care workers from the NHS surcharge is a timely reminder of the importance of accountability mechanisms, like Parliament, continuing to function even in the midst of a public health emergency.
In the context of the new national awareness of the personal courage of NHS staff, it had become impossible for the Government to justify continuing to charge staff from overseas for using the service they are risking their lives to provide. Yet it was only through parliamentary mechanisms of accountability (forensic questioning at PMQs; research by the Commons Library; the prospect of losing a vote on an amendment to a Government Bill) that the manifest lack of justification was converted into an actual policy change.
The episode reminds us of the crucial relationship between maintaining the public's trust during a public health emergency and ensuring that the Government can still be scrutinised and held to account, to check that fundamental values that we all hold dear are not being sacrificed in the name of combating Covid-19. As a member of the SAGE sub-committee on behavioural science recently reminded us, openness and transparency on the part of the Government are crucial to maintaining public trust during a crisis.
BIICL's webinar this week, on Covid-19, AI and Data Governance , was a timely exploration of these important themes in the specific context of data governance.
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