Today, it was revealed that the Government ignored specific warnings in June last year and specific requests for PPE stockpiling. When the timings are factored in, there are only two people who should be held directly responsible. These are the current health secretary, and the then Prime Minister- Mr Hancock and Mrs May. It is absurdly simple.
Now, I see this story in the light of a very strange question put to the Prime minister on 18th March: Theresa May stood directly behind him on the green benches and pushed Boris for what she called “a sensible exit strategy”. Mr Johnson replied that his objective was to suppress the peak of the pandemic. The current news, therefore, makes Mrs May’s questioning of the current PM about an “exit strategy” seem even more pernicious and haughty. I have come across this lady on a number of occasions and it is always the same- when backed into a corner, she turns on to the offensive. I had always wondered why she asked Boris this question. It was a tricky question and one that has quite rightly continued to be put forward by the Opposition.
It is a question that cannot be answered or certainly cannot be answered at the moment in public. It remains an important question that should still be asked, but it certainly looked disloyal when Mrs May vocalised it.
It is a convention in British politics that the current Government shoulders responsibility for criticism of previous incumbents, on the grounds that only the current government can take action to correct the damage. In this case, the damage is too great and the desultory contempt that Mrs May has consistently shown for anyone who got in her way marks her out for special treatment now.
She has badly misjudged the public mood if she thinks she can deflect attention by bickering from the backbenches and asking the sort of questions that should be left to the Opposition. This is a serious matter and she is wrong to play the Ted Heath card.
I would like to know whether Mr Hancock was prevented from acting and whether records of this will emerge in a few years. Certainly, at the time when PPE stockpiling was urged, he was already in post, having taken over from Dominic Raab on 9 July 2018. I await his explanation. It does not look good.
This is not about a failure in policy. It is about people who must take responsibility for the deaths of many hospital staff. The last Government was warned. It ignored the warnings repeatedly. This current administration has worked around the clock to fix the mess May created. But it can never be enough.
Hancock must go and Mrs May must take personal responsibility for what she did.
Here is what the BBC report on its panorama programme records today:
The expert committee that advises the government on pandemics, the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), recommended the purchase of gowns last June.
Gowns are currently one of the items in shortest supply in the UK and they are now difficult to source because of the global shortage of PPE.
Doctors and nurses have complained that there are also shortages of the life-saving FFP3 respirator masks.
Panorama has discovered that millions of FFP3 respirator masks are unaccounted for.
There were 33 million on the original 2009 procurement list for the stockpile, but only 12 million have been handed out.
The government refuses to explain where the other masks have gone.
The Health department (DHSC) feared a “four to six-fold” rise in the cost of protective equipment, arguing there was “a very low likelihood of cost-benefit,” The Guardian has said.
However, it gets worse- This is what the Guardian wrote on 27th March:
Documents show that officials working under former health secretary Jeremy Hunt told medical advisers three years ago to “reconsider” a formal recommendation that eye protection should be provided to all healthcare professionals who have close contact with pandemic influenza patients.
The expert advice was watered down after an “economic assessment” found a medical recommendation about providing visors or safety glasses to all hospital, ambulance and social care staff who have close contact with pandemic influenza patients would “substantially increase” the costs of stockpiling.
The documents may help explain a devastating shortage of protective gear in the NHS that is hampering efforts by medical staff to manage the Covid-19 virus pandemic….
In 2015, what is now the Department of Health and Social Care tasked one of its independent advisory committees, the new and emerging respiratory virus threat advisory group (Nervtag), to review the UK’s approach to stockpiling personal protective equipment (PPE) for use in an influenza pandemic “to help inform future stockpile and purchasing decisions”.
Nervtag had been created the previous year to advise the government on pandemic influenza and new virus threats to the UK. The advisory group made a series of “formal recommendations” to the department in March 2016, which had been compiled by a subgroup of senior NHS clinicians and scientists, and agreed by the wider committee.
Asked what items of PPE would be required in a pandemic, the government’s advisers recommended “providing eye protection for all hospital, community, ambulance and social care staff who have close contact with pandemic influenza patients.
This was the response to similar concerns about delays delivered on April 21st this year:
Prof Peter Horby, Professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases and Global Health, University of Oxford, and Chair of NERVTAG said:
“The PHE/NERVTAG risk assessment judgment on 21 February has been misunderstood. The risk assessment tool was developed and used by PHE/NERVTAG for assessing the current, not future risk, of emerging viruses. It is dynamic, and the assessment on the 21st February was that the risk of COVID-19 was moderate “at this time”. The minutes of that meeting are clear that members thought this risk was likely to increase. Also, it is not intended for use as a trigger for actions during a pandemic. To the best of my knowledge it did not lead to any action/inaction on the part of Govt and the suggestion that it contributed to fatal delays is misleading.”
I suppose we must wait and see what prof Horby has to say about the latest news and if there is any way he can explain that. In the light of deaths, the lack of honesty and the total lack of humility here is staggering. We need to know why we were so unprepared for the pandemic and why recommendations were simply ignored. I am afraid the truth will emerge.