The Government has partially accepted most of the recommendations made in a damning report which highlighted serious errors and delays in its response to the coronavirus pandemic.
A study by the Science and Technology Committee and the Health and Social Care Committee previously said the UK’s pandemic preparation was far too focused on flu, and delays in enforcing the first lockdown cost lives.
The wide-ranging report made 38 recommendations, most of which the Government has agreed to take on board in some form.
Ministers partially accepted the report’s advice to enforce measures such as lockdowns “on a precautionary basis” in future pandemics, rather than when scientific evidence is fully gathered and conclusive.
They accepted this recommendation with the caveat that “decisions on where the balance of public interest lies” should lay with ministers from case to case.
The Government also accepted advice for it to establish a volunteer reserve database so that people who have been vetted can be rapidly deployed in an emergency, and that those responsible for future test and trace programmes should establish processes to rapidly learn from errors.
A notable point of discord was that ministers did not accept the committees’ conclusion on ethnic minority staff having more limited access to appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) than their white colleagues.
However, they did acknowledge that “some ethnic minority staff may have had difficulty with the fit of some items of PPE”.
In a joint statement, former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who chairs the Health and Social Care Committee, and Greg Clark, chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, welcomed the Government’s acceptance of many recommendations and urged it to act on them.
They said: “We welcome the Government’s acceptance or partial acceptance of the majority of our 38 recommendations on lessons to learn from its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Groupthink hindered the Government’s response at the start of the pandemic.
“We are pleased that Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) began regularly publishing its papers and minutes in a timely fashion following our request during the pandemic.
“It will be important to ensure transparency from the outset in any future emergency.
“The pandemic exposed underlying weaknesses in the social care sector.
“The Government has not met in full our call for additional social care funding nor addressed specific concerns around infection prevention.
“We remain doubtful that ministers have learned this lesson.
“It will now be vital for the Government to put its words of acceptance into actions to ensure that our scientific, health and care sectors are better prepared to meet any future threats.
“We will monitor the implementation of many recommendations.”
The Government also rejected several recommendations on the basis that they are already in place – including advice for the Armed Forces to have a more central role in responding to pandemics.
Ministers said the Government “already has strong central functions dedicated to planning for and managing crises”.