In recent months, ministers – when challenged over their handling of the Covid pandemic – have switched the conversation to their success in the vaccination programme and the number of deaths and serious illnesses this has prevented. Now we have a report that sheds light on just how catastrophic the Tory leadership has been during one of the most disastrous episodes in the history of this country (Covid response ‘one of UK’s worst ever public health failures’, 12 October).
The report, led by two former Conservative ministers, one of whom, Jeremy Hunt, was health secretary from 2012 to 2018, was damning of this government in so many respects, but stopped short of pointing the finger of blame at any individuals. Why? Could it be to do with the fact that, after years of NHS cuts under his tenure, Hunt is not prepared to share the blame for the NHS being overwhelmed?
It is often said that the pandemic was an unprecedented situation and nobody could have planned for it. But in 2016, again under Hunt’s watch, the report on Exercise Alice identified specific actions to be taken in preparation, including quarantining/isolating, the need for increased PPE and consistent public messaging (Report, 7 October). Clearly, these were not addressed in the years leading up to the Covid outbreak.
Lessons learned to date? None. The report is nothing more than a typical Tory whitewash aimed at protecting those who are culpable – in particular, Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock and Hunt – and we should not forget what has happened as a result of this government’s sheer incompetence and lack of planning:
• 137,763 deaths due to Covid – a 58% increase since January despite the vaccination rollout.
• The highest number of Covid-related deaths in Europe.
• The eighth highest death rate in the world.
Spennymoor, County Durham
• Christina Pagel and Martin McKee remind us that in England there are still more than 500 Covid deaths each week (Why is England doing worse against Covid than its European neighbours?, 7 October). This is a startling figure, as comparison with recent British military involvement in Afghanistan shows. Over the past 20 years, there were 457 deaths of UK armed forces personnel, according to figures available from the House of Commons library, and 405 of these deaths were the result of hostile action.
If more than 500 British military personnel were being killed each week, there would quite rightly be a public outcry. Yet more than 500 Covid-19 deaths per week in England alone pass with minimal media comment and public protest, and they make no perceptible impact on the Conservative MPs who sit without face coverings in the crowded House of Commons, oppose vaccine passports and back a policy of “vaccine just” for England.
England is in a bad place for a number of reasons: food and fuel shortages, rising gas prices, the cut to universal credit and growing inequality. But one of the salient symptoms of a nation that has lost its way is surely the apparent indifference to the weekly death toll from Covid-19.
• One would think such a damning report might bring a government down, and in more honourable times this would have been the case. Profumo resigned not because he had an affair with Christine Keeler, but because he lied about it in parliament and had therefore misled the Commons, where convention insisted that he fall on his sword.
In this government, there have been many instances of worse behaviour. Indeed, the prime minister himself has stood at the dispatch box and habitually misled the Commons and the British people. He is a real and present threat to our fragile democracy. More surprising than the report, however, is his continued popularity. He and his cabinet need to go.
• Dame Sally Davies says that British exceptionalism contributed to the deaths of thousands. Is “exceptionalism” code for systemic racism, attachment to cultural purity, ideological prejudice, or some combination of the three? The success of countries in east Asia in controlling Covid through masks, social distancing and lockdowns was evident weeks before Britain followed suit.
Beijing Normal University
• It seems that the explanation of “it was the wrong sort of pandemic” is going to be used as the excuse for the poor performance of this country’s response at the start of the Covid pandemic (‘Extraordinary omission’: key findings in scathing UK Covid report, 12 October). However, much of the preparation required – personal protective equipment, emergency Nightingale hospital and overflow care home beds and testing capability – was not specific to the particular type of infection that faced us (be it flu or the unknown coronavirus). It would have been essential in any type of pandemic. Instead, it was found that stores of PPE had been left unmonitored and were unusable at the point of need. Care homes were brought into the collective response without the appropriate infection control capacity or PPE, completely cut off from the main NHS supply chains, and not part of any integrated testing regime. They were simply not part of any national planning infrastructure. This was well known.
The Cygnus report, relating to a trial pandemic exercise in 2016 (when Jeremy Hunt was secretary of state for health) notes that “it was not possible to collate an accurate picture of social care capacity because much of that capacity lies with private providers”. Politicians had simply ignored social care’s relevance. This is not a mere observation – it underlines the immediate need for a truly national social care service to be established in the public sector that which is fully integrated, as part of national resilience capacity, in the planning, provision and delivery of emergency care.