"We could've been ready for Covid-19": former MP reveals how government "mishandled" pandemic

31 March 2020, 17:35

By Fiona Jones

Doctor and former justice minister Dr Phillip Lee told LBC how he was part of a government exercise in 2016 to test provisions in the case of a pandemic - it was found there was not nearly enough NHS equipment.

On Twitter Dr Phillip Lee has written a highly popular set of posts outlining the Government's "mishandling of this pandemic" and lack of preparedness when "we could have been ready for Covid-19."

Dr Phillip told Shelagh: "When you note that there aren't the gold standard PPE kits for people, there aren't the tests available - and you then reflect back personally to a time in late 2016 when you participated in a government exercise in preparation for a pandemic in which the access to ventilators came up, you think how come this wasn't acted upon.

"We knew that there was going to be this significant demand for pandemic kit," he said, and this exercise was using a hypothetical virus for which they had a treatment and a vaccine.

"Here we are in the middle of a pandemic without an effective treatment yet and without a vaccine. So you would think that if the government had taken that file off the bookshelf in January and had noticed it had been pretty sobering being in that exercise...that they may have acted a bit harder and a bit earlier."

"I think it got to a point where I wanted to make people aware of the fact that there were attempts to do this in government a few years ago," referring to his damning Twitter thread.

Shelagh pointed out that when this exercise was undertaken the country was "lost in a vortex called Brexit."

The former MP implied that this oversight could not be directly related to Brexit: "What I would say though is the scale of Brexit was overwhelming government."

As he understood the Cabinet Office were in charge of the exercise at the time and he said anyone who had been in the exercise would have supported a decision at the time to invest £500 million in 50,000 ventilators - however there was of course scrutiny on the government and it wouldn't have seemed a sensible investment at the time.

"I think there are some broader questions here for government allowing funds for these black swan (unlikely) events, particularly tier one national risks," Dr Phillip said.

He said that people who understood pandemics were talking about it for "many many many" years so he personally would never have viewed it as a black swan event but instead something we had to prepare for. Others thought it was never going to happen.

Dr Phillip shared that when he was campaigning for Remain as MP, one of the reasons he fell down on this side of the debate was due to pandemics, and how these crises need country-wide, collaborative efforts.

"What we're seeing now is work with each other, share knowledge, share information, share experience of medics... that is what we should be doing as a species, working closer together, because these things are going to impact on us irrespective of whether we're in the European Union or not."