UK government failed to prepare for COVID-19 pandemic, audit finds

The British government failed to “act on warnings” raised during pandemic simulations held before 2020 and wasn’t “fully prepared” for “wide-ranging impacts” of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new report from the National Audit Office (NAO) found.

The NAO, an independent parliamentary public spending watchdog, found that the two pandemic simulations conducted in 2007 and 2016 — known as Winter Willow and Exercise Cygnus — revealed a “need for better coordinated plans” and “the difficulties of extensive home working.” But lessons from the exercises were “not fully implemented” when the pandemic hit, the audit reads.

“The pandemic has exposed the U.K.’s vulnerability to whole-system emergencies — that is, emergencies that are so broad that they engage the entire system,” the report concludes.

The NAO also found that Brexit “had significant benefits in responding to the pandemic” since it “enhanced the crisis capabilities of some departments,” but on the other hand “diverted resources from other risk and contingency planning.”

Last month, another report from the Health and Social Care Committee and the Science and Technology Committee, found the late lockdown at the start of the pandemic in March 2020 is “one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced.”

A public inquiry into the government’s response to COVID-19 will be conducted next year.

More than 140,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the U.K. since the start of the pandemic, according to U.K. government figures.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium policy service: Pro Health Care. From drug pricing, EMA, vaccines, pharma and more, our specialized journalists keep you on top of the topics driving the health care policy agenda. Email for a complimentary trial.

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