There were ‘serious errors’ in the Government’s initial response to the Covid-19 pandemic, including lockdown delays and testing failures, MPs have ruled.
But the report, compiled jointly by the Health and Social Care committee and the Science and Technology committee, hailed the Covid vaccination programme as one of the ‘most effective initiatives in UK history.
The Government’s response to the pandemic was ‘too reactive,’ and needed to be more anticipatory, with the ‘notable exception’ of the vaccine programme, the ‘lessons learned’ inquiry found.
The preparedness of the NHS was questioned, as although the service responded ‘quickly and strongly’ to the demands of the pandemic, it said there was ‘little spare capacity’ to cope with sudden pressures and demands.
It also found there had been ‘too little explicit learning’ from the international experience of the virus and the response ‘lacked speed in making timely decisions’.
The pandemic has also laid bare the UK’s health inequalities, MPs said, recommending that the Government ensures greater representation of Black, Asian and ethnic minority leaders in NHS commissioning.
But the report said: ‘The success of the vaccine programme—one of the most effective in Europe and, for a country of our size one of the most effective in the world—shows that positive as well as negative lessons should be taken from our handling of the pandemic.’
MPs added that this was only an initial assessment of the handling of the pandemic and a public inquiry to examine the response in more detail should be launched ‘as soon as possible’.
The committees heard from over 50 witnesses, including former health secretary Matt Hancock and chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty, and received 400 written submissions.
The investigation looked at six areas within the response – pandemic preparedness, lockdowns and social distancing, testing and contact tracing, social care, at-risk communities and vaccines – and made 38 recommendations across these.
Key recommendations included ensuring that the NHS has ‘surge capacity’, which MPs said it currently lacks.
The report also said the Government and the NHS should ‘consider establishing a volunteer reserve database so that volunteers who have had appropriate checks can be rapidly called up and deployed in an emergency rather than needing to begin from scratch’.
In a joint statement, Health and Social Care Committee chair Jeremy Hunt and Science and Technology Committee chair Greg Clark, said: ‘The UK response has combined some big achievements with some big mistakes.
‘It is vital to learn from both to ensure that we perform as best as we possibly can during the remainder of the pandemic and in the future.’
BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘The report gives well-deserved praise to the development and deployment of one of the most successful vaccine programmes in history, which was delivered largely by the hard work and dedication of doctors and healthcare staff.’
But he added that it ‘also reveals the significance of the failures from the very start of the pandemic’.
‘Lives were lost due to the Government’s delay to bringing in the initial lockdown, ignoring scientific advice at crucial junctures, and the institutional failures of Test and Trace.
‘The way in which the Government abandoned social care, the inadequate provision and supply of PPE, and the lack of proper health risk assessment, especially for black, Asian and ethnic minority staff, forced health and care staff to put their lives at risk to protect their patients,’ he said.
Thousands of GPs were given temporary registration by the GMC at the start of the pandemic, but a survey revealed only a quarter had actually secured work and just 17% would consider staying on.