Rewind to 2014, seven years before the Coronavirus Pandemic. Duncan Selbie, then chief executive of Public Health England, warns the UK government: ‘The prospect of a flu pandemic is one of the highest risks faced by the UK.
‘We need to be confident that our planning and responses are sufficiently flexible to deal with every eventuality,’ says Selbie.
‘Ensuring the country is fully prepared and able to respond quickly is a top priority for Public Health England, and, of course, for the government.’
Selbie issues his warning to the Conservative government in Pandemic Influenza Response Plan 2014, a report published in August of that year by Public Health England. PHE is the agency that advises the government and the National Health Service on public health strategy.
The PHE report, prepared by Nick Phin, John Simpson, Gaynor Marshall, Hilary Moulsdale and Mike Laing, also states: ‘Pandemic influenza has been classified by the Cabinet Office as the number one threat to the UK population.’
In their report the quintet warn: ‘As a guide, the impact could range from a 1918-type pandemic, where severe disease was mainly in young adults, to a 2009 pandemic, where the illness was mild in most groups of the population.’
They listed an array of measures involving almost every branch of government and all hospitals and care homes.
Notably, these measures included the provision of ‘personal protective equipment’ to staff in ‘health and communal care settings’.
Local NHS trusts were waiting for this multi-agency pandemic flu exercise involving ‘local resilience forums’.
However, it is said this had to be postponed due to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
The simulation is said to have revealed shortages of intensive care beds, essential equipment and mortuary capacity.
Yet the full conclusions of Exercise Cygnus were never published.
Barclay said this whilst holding the Pandemic Influenza Response Plan 2014 in her hand.
What attention did these two politicians also pay to the later warnings made by Barclay and other scientists?
Nick Phin is now deputy director of PHE’s National Infection Service.
Gaynor Marshall retired as manager of supra regional emergency preparedness manager and national support in September 2014.
Politicians use the cosy hindsight homily to excuse their procrastination and inaction.
UK government politicians could have chosen to abide by another homily; ‘pray for the best and prepare for the worst.’
Did they complacently rely on a blind faith in anti-viral drugs, antibiotics and existing public health plans?
UK government politicians, who dictate on policy and pay to those doctors and nurses, behave antithetically to this code.
This entire episode will likely add weight to those who argue the British political class instinctively seeks to cover up fatal errors facilitated by their own clouded judgement.
Will government politicians ever be rendered accountable for their failure to act on the scientific warning issued in the Pandemic Influenza Response Plan 2014?
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence ® London, May 2020.