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National: Former Health Secretary Critiques UK’s Pre-Pandemic Readiness

A Comprehensive Look

Hancock’s Stinging Criticism

In a recent development at the Covid Inquiry, Matt Hancock, the former UK Health Secretary, delivered a harsh criticism of the UK’s pre-pandemic preparedness. Describing it as “completely wrong,” Mr. Hancock lamented that the country’s focus was largely skewed towards managing the aftermath of a pandemic rather than prioritising preventive measures.

He conveyed his heartfelt regret for the lives lost, asserting, “I am profoundly sorry.” However, his attempts to engage with bereaved families following his testimony were met with palpable disregard and dismissal.

A Colossal Failure

Mr. Hancock outlined the systemic failure that plagued the UK’s approach, particularly the assumption that the virus’s spread was inevitable. He stressed that this fundamental misjudgment was a “colossal” error, further emphasising that the approach should have been centred on averting disaster, rather than merely planning for its aftermath.

Challenged by Hugo Keith KC, the lead counsel to the Covid Inquiry, Mr. Hancock acknowledged that the predominant focus on aftermath measures, such as purchasing body bags and managing burials, was misplaced.

Hancock’s Hindsight Reflection

In response to Mr. Keith’s probing question about why he didn’t implement necessary changes during his tenure, Mr. Hancock revealed that he had been led to believe that the UK had an unbeatable system in place. “In hindsight,” he admitted, “I wish I’d spent that short period of time [before the pandemic] changing the entire attitude to how we respond to a pandemic.”

An Ailing System

During the gruelling questioning, Mr. Hancock agreed with Mr. Keith’s stern assertion that the system was flawed, stating, “That’s absolutely right.” Accepting the blame for the outcomes within his department and the agencies he oversaw as Secretary of State, Mr. Hancock recognised the stark reality of the situation.

Revelations from the Inquiry

The inquiry unearthed several startling revelations. Notably, Mr. Hancock disclosed that during the pandemic’s peak, the UK was on the brink of running out of crucial medications for intensive care. This crisis was only circumvented due to preparations made for a no-deal Brexit in 2019.

Mr. Hancock also shared his controversial decision to ignore advice against quarantining individuals returning from Wuhan, China. He pointed a finger at the World Health Organisation (WHO) for advising against lockdowns, a move he labelled as “madness”.

Shortcomings and Responsibilities

Mr. Hancock voiced his frustration over the absence of mass contact tracing systems and the inability to carry out extensive testing, calling it “terrible”. He also criticised the lack of initial information about the preparedness of care homes and the number of residents housed within them.

However, when it came to ensuring the readiness of the social care sector, Mr. Hancock passed the buck onto local authorities, claiming he “didn’t have the levers to act”.

The Echoes of Exercise Cygnus

Mr. Hancock was repeatedly questioned about the recommendations from Exercise Cygnus, a 2016 simulation that evaluated the UK’s readiness for an influenza pandemic. Despite the simulation concluding the UK’s plan was insufficient for a severe pandemic, evidence suggests that only eight of the 22 recommendations had been fully actioned when Covid hit. The remaining recommendations, which included preparations for the social care sector, were still in the works.

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