NHS doctor launches legal challenge against Government over pandemic preparedness

2 June 2020, 08:17

The legal challenge has been made against Matt Hancock
The legal challenge has been made against Matt Hancock. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

An NHS doctor has launched a legal battle against Matt Hancock and the Department of Health after they refused to publish the Operation Cygnus report into the likely impact of a pandemic on care homes.

The findings rely on a secret simulation conducted in 2016 to test the UK's preparedness for a pandemic, named Operation Cygnus.

Dr Moosa Qureshi filed the claim against the Health Secretary in the High Court on Monday.

He is seeking to force the Government to release the finding of Operation Cygnus.

The Department of Health has on numerous occasions refused to publish the results, citing concerns that doing so could jeopardise the ability of civil servants to speak freely behind the scenes.

However, a leaked document revealed last month that the Government has been warned in advance of the likely impact of a pandemic on care homes.

It was also revealed by Whitehall insiders that the operation had disclosed that shortages of critical beds, mortuary places and PPE were likely.

They claim the refusal to publish the Cygnus report is unlawful under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, under Section Six of the Human Rights Act 1998, a violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and unreasonable at common law.

However, the Government has already refused such a request from Dr Qureshi, saying the costs would exceed the limit allowed by the Freedom of Information Act.

Dr Qureshi said: "The Health Secretary's refusal to allow us to learn from a national pandemic exercise – when we are in the midst of a viral pandemic which continues to claim hundreds of lives daily – shows his callous disregard for human life.

"It also shows his disrespect for the NHS professionals who have had to lay their lives on the line blindly, deprived of data which they need to fight Covid-19 effectively.

"It damages our national response to this public health emergency if pandemic data is hidden from the nurses and doctors who are managing this crisis on the ground. 

"We have repeatedly engaged with the Government to make the case for transparency, but unfortunately the Health Secretary has refused to allow us to learn from Cygnus without rhyme or reason.

"Regretfully, I have therefore been forced to instruct my solicitors to issue legal proceedings against the Government in the national interest."