Lessons must be learned by UK Government from Covid-19 pandemic, says National Audit Office

The UK Government could have been better prepared for the Covid-19 pandemic and lacked contingency plans to deal with the unexpected crisis, the UK-wide public spending watchdog has found.

According to the National Audit Office (NAO), the crisis has also exposed existing problems in society, including workforce shortages, legacy IT systems and financial pressure felt by central and local government.

The UK Government lacked a “playbook” for many aspects of the response, some of which were not included in pandemic preparation exercises held previously, the report found.

Sign up to our public interest bulletins - get the latest news on the Coronavirus

Sign up to our public interest bulletins - get the latest news on the Coronavirus

This included planning for employment support schemes, financial support to local authorities, the identification of clinically vulnerable individuals and managing mass disruption to schooling.

Nurses changing their PPE on Ward 5, a Covid Red Ward, at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley in January 2021. Picture: PA Media.

The NAO has produced a total of 17 reports on the UK Government’s response to the pandemic.

NHS provider organisations said they were always able to get the PPE needed on time, but the NAO found this was not always the experience of frontline health workers, particularly of minority ethnicities.

The NAO estimates the total lifetime cost of the pandemic response to be £372 billion, including £62bn on the furlough scheme, £18bn on PPE, £38bn on Test and Trace in England and £26bn to the devolved administrations.

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said: "Covid-19 has required government to respond to an exceptionally challenging and rapidly changing threat. There is much to learn from the successes and failures in government's response and this report is our initial contribution to that process.

"Applying these lessons is not only important for the remaining phases of the current pandemic, but should also help better prepare the UK for future emergencies."

Read More

Read More
Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo called off for second year in a row

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, said: “We have seen tireless and innovative working from government throughout the pandemic, but there remain important lessons to be learned.

“Despite identifying the risk a pandemic posed, government was still caught on the back foot as its contingency planning did not go far enough.”

It comes as campaign group EveryDoctor and the Good Law Project brought legal action against the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), claiming that PPE contracts awarded to PestFix, Clandeboye and Ayanda Capital were given unlawfully in March and April last year.

The two groups allege DHSC has failed to provide proper reasons for why PestFix got the contracts, and say the UK Government violated principles of equal treatment and transparency when awarding the multimillion-pound deals.

Responding to this, the DHSC said in a statement: “We set up, from scratch, a new parallel supply chain to procure, manage and distribute life-saving PPE.

“This was an enormous cross-government effort, drawing upon expertise from a number of departments together with fantastic support from the military and private sector partners. Officials worked day and night to secure these contracts. We prioritised procurement and we make no apology for that.

“As the 2020 National Audit Office (NAO) report recognised, all of the NHS providers they spoke to were always able to get what they needed in time. This was thanks to the collective efforts of government, the NHS, armed forces, civil servants and industry.”

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.


Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.