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The NHS Was Not Prepared For Covid-19 – The contractor's failings

Thursday evening at 8pm has become a ritual now. All us good people of Tetbury, those over the valley, over the border and across the land - applauding the heroic work of our doctors, nurses and other medics. And this for what they are doing for our friends, relatives and neighbours wherever they are - including, thankfully, our own leader, Boris Johnson, who left hospital yesterday. It’s very humanistic. We have though all heard about the massive shortages of equipment all our frontline medics need to operate safely in providing the needed level of care. And those frontline medics include, of course, the army of carers for our elders, whether they be at home on their own or in a community care facility with others. When the day of reckoning comes, long fingers will be pointed at certain persons. Among those persons will be the obvious ones of course but, as we here have recently discovered, there will also be some surprising ones… In a situation such as this – with Covid-19 now in focus – there will always be people who failed to do what they should have done. There will also be others who will remind them, and us all, of their failings. The consequence of this somewhat typical blaming behaviour response, and almost without exception, is considerable acrimony and upset. Many will say, quite right – there should be - and the many would have a point.


We firstly want to say that, we have no political axe to grind whatsoever here. We do not fly any political colour ourselves and haven’t for some long time. If we were aligned to any party in this current political system of ours then it would be the Humanist Party. But for now, that Party does not exist. Incidentally, we believe it never will, because ultimately it will not be required. So, let’s get to the point and in doing so we want to invite you to stand for a moment where we are, for a brief moment at least, and then walk in our shoes. To begin, let’s assume that we - that is the collective we, the people - give a massive responsibility over to some supposedly qualified collection of individuals to run a very important element of our society, and they do so as contractors. Oh, and they do so, with very little independent examination, little in the way of feedback or reporting and next to nothing in open book accounting. Let’s add to that, that the contract we enter into with these contractors is for a lengthy period of time with no early get-out option along the way. With that scenario set, should we really be surprised if somewhere, along the way, there is a failing? Perhaps a massive failing? Just to make things more interesting in this scenario of ours, let’s say there is no financial or other penalty to be levied on the contractors for that failing. Massive as it might be. Well, that is exactly what has gone on here with Covid-19. A contractor was appointed, no visible independent examination, little feedback or reporting, no open book accounting happened, but a massive failing did happen. Now to underline the point, we are not looking to point the long finger and certainly not looking to attribute blame. Instead the purpose is to accept what has occurred and then to ask this truly fundamental of questions. In the light of what HAS happened, should we - as a people - be making different choices? So, what is the failing related to Covid-19 and which contractors are involved? The failing was in not performing the first role of government – Protect its people! For government we should adopt the WIDER definition here and call it parliament. As every schoolteacher in this land will know, the first thing that springs to their mind in conversations about care for their students is RISK ASSESSMENT. Nothing ever moves in schools without the exercise being completed in incredible detail and signed off at several levels above. In the case of our parliament, a risk of a pandemic had been recognised and further back than some might imagine. Take a look at this documented and referenced timeline of events: 2012: Department of Health and Social Care [DH] The DH has stockpiled a wide range of consumable products which may become in short supply in a pandemic. These include PPE. p56 2013: NHS England A pandemic is recognised by the UK Government as a top risk. p6 2016 Apr: NHS England The DH over-arching strategy is declared as remaining fit for purpose. p4 2016 Oct: Exercise Cygnus Exercise to test the impact on the NHS [and country] of a pandemic. 2016 Dec: The Times Newspaper Chief medical Officer said our society would struggle to deal with a serious pandemic. This is clearly an early public hint at a potential serious problem. 2017 Dec: NHS England Stocks of PPE are in place, as is a procurement process to obtain more supplies.p.21 2020 Mar: The C-19 DH Action Plan - Emergency and Health Protection Directorate The UK is well prepared for disease outbreaks with plans regularly tested and updated to ensure they are fit for purpose. p8 These plans ensure the UK is equipped to deliver a coordinated multi-agency response to minimise wider societal impact that could arise from a significant outbreak. Additionally, the UK and devolved administrations aim to ensure that the agencies responsible for tackling the outbreak are properly resourced to do so. p9 The UK maintains strategic stockpiles of the most important medicines and PPE for healthcare staff who may come into contact with patients having the virus. Once a case has been detected our public health agencies use tried and tested procedures for rapid tracing, monitoring and isolation of close contacts. p13 2020 Mar: New Statesman Despite the level of planning for a pandemic, no plans mentioned ventilators. Ventilators were only requested by DH 6wks after the first cases in the UK. Now for the surprise. Now our lead contractor in this scenario, as you have seen, is our parliament. After all, they are the contractor with clear overall responsibility. In our current political system this has been the accepted norm and has been for millennia. However, our contractor takes soundings and advice from others – other contractors. And this is the norm also - and rightly so. The surprise contractor in our story is none other than the NHS itself. We have read the NHS bi-monthly Board meeting minutes from Mar17 to Nov19. These minutes are all in the public domain. There is no mention within the minutes of the NHS being ill-prepared for a pandemic of the kind being experienced now. Further, the Board in the Mar17 meeting specifically received assurance from its lower level management that the NHS was prepared and ready to respond to an emergency. That is despite what the NHS knew from the results of the 2016 Cygnus Exercise and, as an employer, having the direct responsibility to ensure their staff have the necessary PPE to conduct their work. 2020 Mar: Telegraph Newspaper The 2016 Cygnus Exercise revealed there was not enough PPE for the nation’s doctors and nurses. The exercise further revealed a shortage of ventilators and care beds and that such a pandemic would overrun the NHS capability. 2020 Mar: RT News – interview of John Pilger Parliament suppressed the findings of the 2016 Cygnus Exercise preventing them from being made public. Well, not scaring the public unnecessarily is understandable, but not doing anything about the findings in the following 4yrs, most certainly is NOT!

2020 Mar: LBC News – interview of Care Minister

The Care Minister dodges Nick Ferrari's questions about the Cygnus Exercise.

One further question might be added here: At the exact moment in time when the pandemic was revealing itself to the world, [Dec19] did the UK government finally realise the need to address the 2016 Cygnus findings? In Dec19 it announced unprecedented increases in spending for the NHS. That spending was in fact coupled with massive new spending on police officers and HS2. The above clearly uncovers a raft of detailed questions and answers which need to be made public. In our view, the object is to better understand what happened and what didn’t happen. The outcome of such a process should not be to apportion blame – despite apportionment being somewhat inevitable – but rather to lay the foundations for a different way of organising and administering our society in a more open and transparent style. The result being, a society not tripped up by inadequate processes or people and importantly, free from horrific surprises. Authors: Helen King and David Swettenham for Connect M3


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