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The report, a version of which was leaked to the Guardian in May, said that the UK was not prepared for a pandemic and warned of a crisis in care homes.
Exercise Cygnus simulated an outbreak of fictitious “swan flu” and recruited 950 ministers, officials and civil servants to role-play how the machinery of government would cope with the pressures of a major outbreak of a novel disease.
The report of the simulation warned in blunt terms that “the UK’s preparedness and response, in terms of its plans, policies and capability, is currently not sufficient to cope with the extreme demands of a severe pandemic that will have a nationwide impact across all sectors”.
However, the report was kept secret, and senior figures in the care sector, which was the subject of specific warnings in the document, told the Guardian its findings had never been raised with them.
The government’s publication of the Cygnus report marks a belated recognition that a document previously hyped as “too terrifying” for public consumption can in fact be made available for widespread distribution.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has for months resisted publishing the document itself. Requests for the document under the Freedom of Information Act have been declined on the grounds that it related to the formulation of government policy, an exemption under the act.
In June, almost six months after the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern, the government health minister Lord Bethell told the House of Lords that reports of Cygnus-style simulations had to remain secret “so that the unthinkable can be thought”.
It is not clear why the government adopted the policy of keeping pandemic studies secret. A previous, far larger, simulation called Winter Willow that took place in 2007 and involved five times as many people was published without incident, and remains freely available online.
In July the health minister Edward Argar told a parliamentary committee that while he had been briefed on the findings of the Cygnus simulation, even he had not seen the actual report until it was published in the Guardian.
Last month the Information Commissioner’s Office, which regulates freedom of information cases, ordered the DHSC to formally engage with a request for a copy of the Cygnus report.
In submissions to the ICO the department appeared to suggest that official publication of the Cygnus report had been delayed by the health secretary, Matt Hancock.
“DHSC has been awaiting ministerial opinion on a submission provided. As you will probably be aware, this relates to leaked material and is extremely sensitive,” they wrote.
“We are unable to respond until the secretary of state for health and social care is satisfied and, understandably, are not able to determine when this will be.”
A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said Cygnus-style exercises were not published regularly “to allow participants to provide honest feedback”.
“We have used the lessons learned from Exercise Cygnus to rapidly respond to this unprecedented global crisis. This included being ready with legislative proposals that were the initial basis of the Coronavirus Act 2020, planning for recruitment and deployment of retired staff and volunteers, and improving plans to flex systems and expand beyond normal NHS capacity levels.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Official report that said UK was not prepared for pandemic is published | World news