Secret Whitehall document condemns 'insufficient' preparedness for pandemic

A secret government document condemning ‘insufficient’ preparations for a pandemic has been published.

The report, leaked to the Guardian, is based on a 2016 simulation of a flu pandemic, codenamed Exercise Cygnus.

It identified a ‘lack of joint tactical-level plans’ for a public health emergency such as coronavirus, with demand for services outstripping local capacity.

The 57-page Public Health England report also identified concerns about the expectation that the social care system would be able to provide the level of support needed in the event of a serious outbreak.

Latest figures from the Department of Health showed 30,076 people had died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK, as of 5pm on Tuesday.

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It is the highest death toll in Europe, amid long-running concerns about a lack of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) among frontline health workers and care home staff, as well as worries over the Government’s testing capabilities.

The Cygnus drill document found the possible impacts of a pandemic were not universally understood across Whitehall.

It said: ‘The UK’s preparedness and response, in terms of its plans, policies and capability, is currently not sufficient to cope with the extreme demands of a severe pandemic that will have a nationwide impact across all sectors.’

Ministers have acknowledged the presence of the Cygnus report throughout the coronavirus pandemic, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock telling reporters last month that ‘everything that was appropriate to do was done’.

Liz Kendall MP, Labour’s Shadow Social Care Minister, said: ‘The report on Exercise Cygnus provided clear warnings that we were not properly prepared for a pandemic.

‘In particular it highlights that local plans for social care were inadequate and that social care services wouldn’t be able to cope with the number of people discharged from hospitals to ensure the NHS had enough beds to meet demand.

‘These warnings have now proved all too sadly true as the unfolding tragedy in our care homes shows. Care providers confirm they were not involved in subsequent discussions on how to put these problems right.

‘Ministers must be clear about why they failed to act on the report’s recommendations and what they will now do to fully protect and resource these vital services in future.’

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