23:03 GMT19 September 2020
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    The Department of Health was also requested to consider bringing back recently retired nurses and care workers “to deal with the extra strain on the system” and conduct “vital tasks”, such as “opening up more distribution points for personal protective equipment and working on essential communications to the public”.

    A secret UK government report which concluded the country was ill-prepared for a pandemic outbreak, particularly in respect of care homes, has been leaked publicly. 

    The report is based on the findings of a simulation of an influenza pandemic, codenamed Exercise Cygnus - it concluded that Britain was woefully equipped to deal with the “extreme demands” of a flu-like pandemic. It concludes with 26 key recommendations, including boosting capacity of care homes and numbers of staff available to work therein, and warned of how challenging it would be if care homes were compelled to take in patients from hospitals.

    ​The Exercise’s “key learning” was 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”. As a result, it was recommended a comprehensive “pandemic concept of operations” be crafted and NHS England work to prepare “surge capacity”. It also concluded the social care system needed to expand to cope with a “worst-case scenario pandemic”, and funds should be set aside to provide extra capacity and support to the NHS.

    Health Secretary Matt Hancock was recently quizzed on Exercise Cygnus, and claimed officials at the Department of Health had said “everything recommended was done”.

    However, such reassurance is perhaps difficult to square with the number of people who’ve died in UK care homes during the coronavirus crisis as of 1st May - in all, 6,686 have lost their lives, with dozens dying in outbreaks in single facilities on several occasions. Shortages of essential personal protective equipment to protect staff and limit the spread of the virus among residents have been cited as the key motivating factor.

    ​Public Health England ran the Cygnus exercise October 2016, and a report was finally produced July 2017 and sent to all major government departments, NHS England, and the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - it has remained secret every since.

    In April, The Guardian attempted to have the report released under freedom of information laws, but the Department of Health and Social Care refused to publish it, claiming to do so would “prohibitively impact the ability of ministers to meet with officials and external stakeholders to discuss ongoing policy development”. 

    That same month, Leigh Day law firm announced Moosa Qureshi, an NHS doctor, was pursuing legal action against the DHSC to attempt to compel them to release the Cygnus report.

    Tags:
    SARS coronavirus, coronavirus, COVID-19, National Health Service (NHS), Scottish National Health Service (NHS), National Health Service (NHS)
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