Covid exposed the UK's vulnerability to 'whole-system' emergencies, says report

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the UK’s vulnerability to “overall system” emergencies, an official report said.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said emergencies across the system are those that affect all government, society and the economy.

The NAO said the pandemic highlighted the need to build national resilience – and prepare for future risks of this magnitude.

A NAO statement said: “Like many other governments around the world, the UK government was not adequately prepared for a pandemic like COVID-19 and needs to learn lessons from its preparation and management of risks to the whole system of preparations that it has to hit.

“The government has had a national risk assessment since 2005. This is updated regularly and identifies the main risks to which the UK or its interests abroad are exposed.

“Since before the pandemic, stakeholders have identified areas where the government’s approach to risk assessment needs improvement. This includes a more thorough analysis of high uncertainty risks (which are difficult to estimate); Risks that may materialize over a period of two years; and the effects of multiple concurrent risks. 2 The Cabinet Office is currently reviewing aspects of the methodology it uses to assess risks to the UK.

“As of 2008, the government’s National Risk Register (the Register) has identified pandemic influenza as the UK’s greatest non-malignant risk. Prior to the pandemic, the Department of Health & Social Care (DHSC) had identified a pandemic as a significant risk Other departments had identified risks related to the possible consequences of a pandemic At the local level, all municipal risk registers identified a pandemic influenza as a significant risk.

“The government has prioritized preparation for a pandemic flu and an emerging high-impact infectious disease – a very contagious disease that typically causes the deaths of high proportions of those infected or has the ability to spread rapidly , with few or no treatment options – like Ebola.

“The government has not developed a specific pandemic preparedness plan for a disease with traits such as COVID-19, which has an overall lower death rate and widespread asymptomatic transmission in the community. However, some preparations the government had made were used in the COVID-19 phase of response, such as stocks of personal protective equipment (PPE).

“The government was not fully prepared for the far-reaching impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on society, the economy and essential public services. For example, there was a lack of detailed plans for screening, employment promotion programs and dealing with school disruptions. Pandemic plans and business continuity plans include some, but not all, of the measures necessary to maintain operations during the pandemic.

“The government did not respond to some warnings from the pandemic simulations conducted prior to COVID-19. Simulation exercises such as Winter Willow (2007) and Exercise Cygnus (2016) were based on a pandemic influenza, but highlighted common problems of planning, coordination, and skills that are more generally applicable to pandemics. Winter Willow stressed the need for more coordinated plans. Cygnus highlighted the difficulties of extensive homeworking, which, however, were not apparent in most of the pandemic plans examined by the NAO.

“Preparations for EU exit improved the crisis capabilities and risk planning of some departments, but resulted in the government interrupting work on other contingency preparations, no-deal exit, which limits its ability to focus on other risk and contingency planning at the same time focus.

“The NAO recommends that the government step up its preparedness for system-wide emergencies. For example, the cabinet office should determine who will manage and manage system-wide risks and strengthen the supervisory and safeguard arrangements for preparing for system-wide emergencies. “

“It should also work with other government departments to ensure that their risk management, business continuity and contingency planning are more comprehensive, holistic and integrated. The knowledge gained from simulation exercises should also be immediately disseminated and implemented throughout the government.

Gareth Davies, Head of NAO said: “This pandemic has exposed the UK’s vulnerability to emergencies across the system, where the emergency is broad enough to affect all levels of government and society. Although the government had plans for a pandemic flu, it was not prepared for a pandemic like COVID-19 and did not learn any important lessons from the simulation exercises it conducted.

“When it comes to risks to the overall system, the government needs to define the level and type of risk it is willing to take in order to make informed decisions and prepare appropriately.”

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