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Four things we learned from the Covid inquiry, as science advisers blame cuts and Government admits mistakes
  • Jun 15, 2023
  • Latest News

Day Two of the Covid Inquiry has been hearing submissions from the UK, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish governments as well as expert witness evidence, as Baroness Hallett investigates whether the country was properly prepared for a pandemic. Here are four things we have learnt from today’s hearings:

The government’s scientific advisers believe public funding cuts hammered the Covid response

Matthew Hill, representing the Government Office for Science – including Sir Patrick Vallance, who was chief scientific adviser at the height of the pandemic – told the inquiry that a lack of investment in the NHS and public health in the years before Covid emerged was a problem when medics and scientists were trying to grapple with the virus.

Mr Hill said while there were areas in which the UK was strong, including scientific expertise in genomic sequencing, pharmaceuticals and vaccines, there were “areas of national weakness” which made the country more vulnerable, including scaling up testing, underlying health inequalities and higher levels of obesity compared to other countries.

These vulnerabilities also included “the lack of excess capacity in the NHS, even in normal times, and challenges of scaling and operations of a public health infrastructure which raised questions about the investment made in that system in preceding years and whether it had responded effectively to previous pandemic threats”.

The lack of “reliable and relevant data” early on was also a weakness. “Data were not available or were not shared, or could not be collated and analysed rapidly. This hampered advice and resulted in under informed decisions.”

The issue of cuts under the Cameron government’s austerity regime has been raised by the TUC and bereaved families – but this is the first time figures who were involved in the government’s pandemic response have blamed them.