‘Damning’: Welsh GP blasts UK Gov for losing pandemic preparedness plan
A GP from Gwynedd has hit out after discovering that a blueprint to deal with a coronavirus pandemic was “lost” 16 years ago.
Dr Eilir Hughes, who is among a group of medics calling for an “urgent investigation” into the Welsh Government’s handling of the outbreak, said the revelation was “damning”.
He raised his concerns on Twitter after it emerged the plan, drawn up by the UK Government in 2005, was apparently “lost” in Whitehall and was not acted upon or considered when the Covid-19 pandemic broke out.
According to the Independent, the plan, which was a response to the SARS outbreak, recommended building up infrastructure for virus testing and PPE stockpiling in case of an outbreak, while response measures included travel restrictions, isolating and testing contacts with infections, and limiting “super-spreader” events.
Former government advisors believe that tens of thousands of lives could have been saved if the report’s recommendations had been implemented from the outset.
It was reported that one senior medical adviser who served in Downing Street throughout the last decade said they were “totally surprised” to learn of the blueprint, despite having worked in emergency health planning and pandemic preparedness.
Dr Hughes said: “This is damning. The contingency plan for a coronavirus epidemic written SIXTEEN years ago got LOST and so we followed a Flu one instead!
“The 2005 plan, put together by the DoH, warns of spread via ‘finer aerosols of infectious respiratory secretions, which stay in the air longer than droplets,, meaning it can be passed from one person to another through the nose, mouth or eyes. Covid-19 transmits like this!
“The document, drawn up in response to Sars, recommended building up infrastructure for virus testing and PPE stockpiling in case of an outbreak.
“It even warned of the risk of ‘super-spreading events’ and reiterates the need for good ventilation, particularly in a healthcare setting, in order to ‘direct airflow … and remove contaminated air’.
“Ever heard of #FreshAirNHS?
“In the ’lessons learnt’ section, the document stresses the need for increased infection control measures – such as high-quality personal protective equipment (PPE) – in healthcare settings.
“The Sars plan could have played a key part in the Covid response.
“We would have known about airflow, we would have protected our staff better and thought about the co-morbidities more.”
Last month Dr Hughes, a member of a group called Medics4MaskUpWales, was one of 35 doctors and health professionals from Wales calling for the “urgent investigation” into the way the Welsh Government had handled the pandemic.
Their letter said: “The nation has undergone two large waves of COVID-19 infections and despite a successful vaccination programme, we are unfortunately at the start of a third wave driven by the Delta variant.
“The pandemic in Wales has directly caused over 5,500 deaths, unmeasured levels of ill-health and chronic disability related to long-COVID, more than 6 months of missed education days, major economic consequences as well as an increasingly insurmountable strain on the Welsh NHS.
“We believe that there is an urgent need to look back at the experiences of the last 15 months, to scrutinise the decisions and actions undertaken in line with the growing scientific evidence that has developed both nationally and internationally; to review best practice and to reflect on and learn from any mistakes that were made.
“Lessons learnt can then be used to inform responses to the pandemic going forwards.”
“We strongly urge the Welsh Government to signal the deaths and other harm related to SARS-CoV-2 as a serious incident and use its devolved powers to urgently initiate an investigation into the handling of the pandemic in Wales,” the letter states.
“We implore that any investigation is undertaken without delay so that lessons can be learnt as we head into further waves of COVID-19 infections with the possibility of new vaccines resistant strains ahead and normal winter pressures.
“Not only will prolonging the instigation of a comprehensive investigation impede any meaningful return towards a routinely working health service, but it risks increasing pressure on an already overwhelmed NHS.”