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One of the UK's worst ever public health failures

October 12, 2021 6:02 PM
Originally published by Babergh South Suffolk Liberal Democrats

83cl (Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash)A combined report by the parliamentary committees on science and technology and health and social care, both with Tory Chairman and majority Conservative memberships reported today on the covid pandemic and the response to it. They report took a year to compile and was begun when the government refused an early public enquiry into what went on'.

The report summary in the Guardian newspaper is pretty damning.

Groupthink", evidence of British exceptionalism and a deliberately "slow and gradualist" approach meant the UK fared "significantly worse" than other countries, according to the 151-page "Coronavirus: lessons learned to date" report led by two former Conservative ministers.

The crisis exposed "major deficiencies in the machinery of government", with public bodies unable to share vital information and scientific advice impaired by a lack of transparency, input from international experts and meaningful challenge.

Despite being one of the first countries to develop a test for Covid in January 2020, the UK "squandered" its lead and "converted it into one of permanent crisis". The consequences were profound, the report says. "For a country with a world-class expertise in data analysis, to face the biggest health crisis in 100 years with virtually no data to analyse was an almost unimaginable setback."

Boris Johnson did not order a complete lockdown until 23 March 2020, two months after the government's Sage committee of scientific advisers first met to discuss the crisis. "This slow and gradualist approach was not inadvertent, nor did it reflect bureaucratic delay or disagreement between ministers and their advisers. It was a deliberate policy - proposed by official scientific advisers and adopted by the governments of all of the nations of the UK," the report says.

"It is now clear that this was the wrong policy, and that it led to a higher initial death toll than would have resulted from a more emphatic early policy. In a pandemic spreading rapidly and exponentially, every week counted."

Decisions on lockdowns and social distancing during the early weeks of the pandemic - and the advice that led to them - "rank as one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced", the report concludes, stressing: "This happened despite the UK counting on some of the best expertise available anywhere in the world, and despite having an open, democratic system that allowed plentiful challenge."

The report says that the "impossibility" of suppressing the virus was only challenged when it became clear the NHS could be overwhelmed and questions why international experts were not part of the UK scientific advisory process and why measures that worked in other countries were not brought in as a precaution, as a response was hammered out:

While Public Health England told the MPs it had formally studied and rejected the South Korean approach, no evidence was provided despite repeated requests.

"We must conclude that no formal evaluation took place, which amounts to an extraordinary and negligent omission given Korea's success in containing the pandemic, which was well publicised at the time," the report says.

The MPs said the government's decision to halt mass testing in March 2020 - days after the World Health Organization called for "painstaking contact tracing and rigorous quarantine of close contacts" - was a "serious mistake".

When the test, trace and isolate system was rolled out it was "slow, uncertain and often chaotic", "ultimately failed in its stated objective to prevent future lockdowns", and "severely hampered the UK's response to the pandemic". The problem was compounded, the report adds, by the failure of public bodies to share data, including between national and local government.

Further criticism is levelled at poor protection in care homes, for black, Asian and minority ethnic groups and for people with learning disabilities.

Responding to today's report, Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat MP said "Although it is right that the committee have found their voice and their findings echo many of those made by the over the past year, this report is notable by its silence on a number of key areas including the catastrophic mismanagement of schools, the continued under delivery on donations to COVAX and no mention of Long Covid in 151 pages. This report is no substitute for the full public inquiry this government has promised and the government must now commit to releasing interim findings from this inquiry before the next general election."