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Too much time spent preparing for flu rather than coronavirus pandemic – Cameron

19 Jun 2023 5 minute read
Former prime minister David Cameron leaving after giving evidence to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry – Image: Jeff Moore

David Cameron has conceded it was a “mistake” for his government to focus too heavily on preparations for combating a wave of influenza rather than a coronavirus-like pandemic.

The Conservative former prime minister told the UK Covid-19 Inquiry on Monday that “many consequences” followed from the focus on pandemic flu rather than other respiratory illnesses.

Mr Cameron defended the programme of austerity cuts to public services under his leadership between 2010 and 2016 that medics and unions have blamed for leaving the NHS in a “parlous state”.

Becoming the first politician to be questioned by the inquiry, he said the time spent focusing on flu during contingency planning was “the thing I keep coming back to” when considering the “horrors of the Covid pandemic”.

“I think it was a mistake not to look more at the range of different types of pandemic,” Mr Cameron said, giving evidence under oath.

He added: “Much more time was spent on pandemic flu and the dangers of pandemic flu rather than on potential pandemics of other, more respiratory diseases, like Covid turned out to be.

“And, you know, I think this is so important because so many consequences follow from that.”

He said he had been “wrestling with” the issue, adding: “But why wasn’t more time and more questions asked about what turned out to be the pandemic that we faced?

“It’s very hard to answer why that’s the case. And I’m sure this public inquiry is going to spend a lot of time on that.”

Mr Cameron was questioned on his own warning back in 2015 that the Ebola outbreak was a “wake-up call” to the emergence of a “more aggressive and more difficult to contain” virus.


He said that his government did look at pandemics other than flu, such as Mers and Sars.

“So, I think that wasn’t a failing, I think the failing was not to ask more questions about asymptomatic transmission, highly infectious … what turned out to be the pandemic we had,” he added.

He said that evidence from Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, who was health secretary under Mr Cameron, points to Hong Kong requiring three months of personal protective equipment (PPE) for every hospital.

Mr Cameron said he was never asked for funding to meet such a requirement, adding: “Had I been asked, we would’ve granted it, that’s not expensive, that’s not a huge commitment.”

He insisted there was not too little economic planning for a pandemic and said that planning for the closure for schools was never raised during his time in office.

“The furlough scheme came in very quickly, very boldly and made an enormous difference, and that was possible because we had the financial capacity to do it,” he said.

Sir Chris Wormald, the most senior civil servant in the Department of Health and Social Care since 2016, admitted there had not been discussion of mass quarantining in planning.

The permanent secretary said: “Not in the context of a pandemic.”

In a statement read to the inquiry, austerity-era chancellor George Osborne argued that the approach taken following the 2008 financial crisis “had a material and positive effect on the UK’s ability to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic”.

Mr Cameron insisted that having the “spare capacity to suddenly borrow” a significant portion of national income was “very much in my mind when we drew up the plan to reduce the budget deficit”.

He denied that cuts led to a depleted health service, arguing it was “absolutely essential to get the British economy and British public finances back to health so you can cope with a future crisis”.

Mr Cameron added: “I mean, Greece and Spain had far more austerity, brutal cuts, and yet their life expectancy went up. So I don’t think it follows.”


The British Medical Association representing doctors has accused Mr Cameron and his ministers of allowing the NHS to get into a “parlous state”.

Ahead of the hearing, council chairman Professor Philip Banfield wrote: “I have seen first-hand the damage wrought by years of austerity and a failure to prioritise the nation’s health.

“The UK was severely on the back foot when Covid took hold and this proved disastrous – for the doctors I represent and the millions who suffered at the hands of the virus.”

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has said that austerity was a “political choice” that left the UK “hugely exposed to the pandemic”.

After Mr Cameron’s evidence, TUC general secretary Paul Nowak accused him of being “in denial about the huge damage caused by his austerity policies”.

The inquiry heard a witness statement from Sir Oliver Letwin, who was a Cabinet Office minister from 2010 to 2016 and in charge of resilience under Mr Cameron.

Sir Oliver said that “in retrospect” it may “seem surprising” that his reviews did not cover the response to pandemic flu in the UK.

“I now believe, however, that it might have been helpful if I had delved into the pandemic influenza risks myself,” he said.

Mr Cameron was being questioned by barrister Kate Blackwell KC rather than the inquiry’s lead counsel Hugo Keith, who has said he knows the former prime minister.

The first phase of the UK Covid-19 Inquiry is examining whether the UK was sufficiently prepared for the pandemic.

On Tuesday, Mr Osborne and Sir Oliver will give evidence to the inquiry. Mr Hunt is due on Wednesday, as is Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden.

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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
10 months ago

Mates with the KC so the deputy gets to listen to his refusal to take responsibility for his and his government;s guilt…that is so Eton…

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
10 months ago

Lying under oath, scum or upper crust, his kids will be forced to watch their father lie about his (big) part in half a million premature deaths in the country he was in charge of…

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
10 months ago

Too much time preparing for the flu rather than COVID. I suppose it hasn’t helped since 2010 the Tories have been privatising the English NHS by stealth, which in turn has affected indirectly the running of the Welsh, Scottish & NI NHS systems. See, Westminster still control by proxy many facets of Welsh life including our block funding, benefits system, immigration ect… , all a contributing factor to the stresses & strains of our state run health systems. And yes, before anyone points this out. Yes, Welsh Labour’s controlled our Welsh NHS since 1999, who should also shoulder partial blame,… Read more »

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
10 months ago

How can he live with himself, Eton teaches them well, a thick skin to match his head. his only instinct was to screw as much as he could out of the country before doing a runner… And Clark Kent has as much idea as Major Major Sunak of how decent and honest government is conducted. He kept well away from Aberdeen and the bitter winds off the North Sea. Really poor show, hardly a decent parliamentarian left standing. I suggest letting a Quaker and a Jain write the AI program to run the UK… The good thing about the Jains… Read more »

Last edited 10 months ago by Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
10 months ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

One would assume that there must have been an expert* somewhere who’s life’s work has been centred around these known unknowns regardless of miserly Tory admin…

An apolitical dept somewhere in one of our great universities which is tasked with looking out for 70 million ******* people. Or are we really and truly a ship of fools and crooks adrift on a soulless ocean…

What did Fat Shanks and Steve Bannon, Trump’s Guru, chat about?…

(I wonder if Rishi the Artful Dodger knows him from his Green Card days)

*I’m joking

Last edited 10 months ago by Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
10 months ago

Fat Shanks is 59 today, born on the cusp between Gemini and Cancer, he probably thinks Glasto is about him ! Such men are fraught with inner conflicts between their reason and the impulsive emotions that are most of the time uncontrollable and incredibly strong. The energetic gemini-cancer cusp man tends to be lazy, flirty and needs a safe space i.e. a fridge…

10 months ago

too much time spent …. sucking the lifeblood out of the NHS between 2010 and 2016 when he handed over to another equally brazen leech, who went on to hand over to the Officer in Charge when the ship ran aground on the Covid rocks. Merits a war crimes trial. They cut front line troops and kit for fighting illness and diseases within NHS but filled it with more useless effin’ bureaucrats like E,D &I directors, managers and officers. Must have been deliberate so found “guilty” by the court of hd15. One stout branch and 3 ropes please. More will… Read more »

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