Health Committee Report HC92 – A question of integrity

The Health Select Committee’s Report lacks integrity.
 
Of course, that’s not to say it doesn’t say some useful things. It identifies many serious errors made by the current Government, while laying the blame for many thousands of deaths at Boris Johnson’s doorstep. However, it lacks transparency, suppresses data, and refuses to account honestly for the UK’s failed pandemic preparedness.

Some good things on preparedness

Going forwards, the Select Committee does make some genuinely helpful recommendations for the future.

We welcome the Report’s recommendation to provide additional resources to the Civil Contingencies Secretariat to ‘stress test’ pandemic plans. One of the recurrent themes of the UK’s pandemic exercises is that lessons have been learned, but those lessons have not been implemented. Ensuring that plans function in real world conditions under stress should be a fundamental principle of future pandemic preparedness.
 

We also welcome the Report’s recommendation that the NHS requires additional resources to ‘buffer’ against future pandemics. However, we see no sign that the Department of Health or NHS England are moving in this direction. In fact, Simon Stevens’s ‘Sustainability and Transformation Plans’ (affectionately referred to as ‘Slash, Trash and Privatise in the Telegraph) are based on continued reductions in NHS bed capacity

We also welcome the Health Select Committee’s recommendation that SAGE advice to ministers should be published daily in any future pandemic, and agree that greater transparency will enhance pandemic responsiveness by enabling the wider scientific community to challenge groupthink. We wonder why the Select Committee did not recommend that reports from previous pandemic exercises are published for the same reason. 

Poor information or disinformation?

However, the Select Committee fails to fairly assign accountability for the UK’s lack of preparedness for COVID-19. Boris Johnson cannot be blamed for the fact that we lacked PPE stockpiles or NHS bed capacity going into this national emergency. These were the results of policies and decisions which were developed for over a decade before he became Prime Minister.
 
The Report’s fundamental premise for our lack of preparedness for COVID-19 is false. For instance, it repeatedly (see paragraphs 24, 58, 59) explains our failed pandemic management by saying the UK’s previous pandemic exercises focused on influenza. The Health Select Committee wilfully omits reference to the many other pandemic exercises for many other viruses that we know PHE conducted.
 
The UK Government has recently stated that Exercise Alice wasn’t relevant for COVID-19 because it modelled a MERS pandemic. The Health Select Committee clearly opposes this position by saying that planning for SARS or MERS would have helped our management of COVID-19. However, why does the Committee make no mention of Exercise Alice, which modelled a MERS pandemic in the UK? 'Boris Johnson can't be blamed for the fact that we lacked PPE stockpiles or bed capacity or trained intensive care staff. These resulted from policies and decisions which were developed for over a decade before he became Prime Minister.' Click To Tweet 

Jeremy Hunt MP claimed on BBC Radio 4 today that “ministers were not briefed” on Exercise Alice. 

What he is asking us to believe is that the Chief Medical Officer – Dame Sally Davies – raised concerns about national preparedness for a MERS pandemic, organised Exercise Alice without ministerial involvement, received a consensus view from multiple experts that we needed to ensure contact tracing, PPE stocks and NHS bed capacity, and then decided to withhold that information from every minister at the Department of Health. 'Jeremy Hunt is asking us to believe the CMO was worried about MERS Coronavirus preparedness, organised Exercise Alice without his involvement, then failed to communicate consensus concerns about PPE and NHS bed capacity to Ministers.' Click To Tweet

BBC Radio 4: Mishal Husain asks Jeremy Hunt MP about Exercise Alice 

Serious questions for the Select Committee

Jeremy Hunt MP chaired the Health Select Committee during its COVID-19 Inquiry, and he chose not to question Matt Hancock, Simon Stevens and Dame Sally Davies about Exercise Alice – a Coronavirus exercise conducted under his watch.
 
This leads us to the crux of why the Report lacks integrity. The Chair of the Health Select Committee was the Secretary of State for Health from 2012 to 2018. The person leading the investigation of our preparedness, was the same person who failed to prepare us. Jeremy Hunt should have been answering questions, not asking them. 'The Select Committee's Chair was the Health Secretary from 2012 to 2018. The person leading the investigation of our preparedness, was the same person who failed to prepare us. Jeremy Hunt should have been answering questions, not asking them'. Click To Tweet 

The Committee’s report says, “the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in Asia illustrates the value of learning those lessons from SARS and MERS”

The glaring question which remains unanswered throughout the Report goes as follows: If learning from MERS was so important, why didn’t we learn those lessons from Exercise Alice? 'If the Health Select Committee believes we could have learned valuable lessons from the MERS pandemic, then why didn't it look at our failure to learn from Exercise Alice?' Click To Tweet

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top