A SIX-MONTH campaign led by an NHS doctor to have the full report into a pandemic preparation exercise published has successfully forced the Health Secretary to disclose Public Health England’s Cygnus report.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has finally posted on the government website the Public Health England (PHE) report into Exercise Cygnus, carried out in 2016.
Dr Moosa Qureshi, together with freelance journalist Tommy Greene, hailed the publication as a victory for their legal campaign for transparency during the coronavirus pandemic.
The DHSC has stated that it holds no further information regarding Exercise Cygnus and therefore asked the claimants to withdraw their application for judicial review of the government’s refusal to publish the reports, which they have now done.
During the past six months, the DHSC had repeatedly refused to publish the reports into Exercise Cygnus following a Freedom of Information request by Dr Qureshi and Mr Greene, saying that it needed more time to weigh up whether it would be in the public interest.
At the same time, an application for a judicial review was refused on the papers, partly on the grounds that an FOI request should have been decided before the legal processes were completed.
Last month the Information Commissioner gave the DHSC a deadline to publish the reports.
An appeal into the decision to refuse the application for judicial review was due to be heard on Thursday, 19 November.
The DHSC has, in asking Dr Qureshi and Mr Greene to withdraw their court action, confirmed that it holds no further reports evidencing the findings of Exercise Cygnus.
Dr Qureshi said: ‘It’s remarkable that the Health Secretary refused to publish the Cygnus Report in response to our initial pre-action request in April 2020, forced us to go to court in the public interest, and then published his report before our Judicial Review renewal hearing.
‘While NHS professionals continue to work fast and hard to keep patients alive in an under-resourced service, ministers seem happy to delay and throw taxpayers’ money away on expensive legal manoeuvrings.’
Dr Qureshi added: ‘We know that pandemic modelling during the Cygnus process from 2014 to 2016 revealed that the UK was inadequately prepared for the healthcare challenge of a viral pandemic, and events on the ground have demonstrated that we continued to be unprepared until 2020 and continue to be unprepared today.
‘Therefore – notwithstanding the Department of Health’s evasive tactics – we remain committed to locating and interrogating the government’s pandemic preparedness data in the interests of public health and democratic transparency.’