A CROSS Party ‘pandemic simulation’ carried out just three years before Covid-19 struck ‘played-out’ a scenario in which the health minister was asked to turn off all the ventilators in the UK, which, if carried out in reality, would mean the deaths of four thousand people.
The incident happened during a mock Cobra meeting on the first day of Exercise Cygnus, the secret war game staged in October 2016 to test the NHS resilience to a viral pandemic.
The government, up until now, have refused to publish the result of Exercise Cygnus, which gave forewarning of the unpreparedness of the NHS to deal with such a crisis.
At the time, former Tory Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt ‘downed tools’ and ‘refused to play’ when asked to turn off ventilators in a pandemic dry run. He refused to play the game which asked him to test out the scenario where he would have to make the decisions about who would live and who would die.
News of the incident follows the official publication last week of the secret report on Exercise Cygnus following a lengthy battle under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act.
Some of those involved in the exercise criticised Hunt’s refusal to take the ‘tough decisions necessary’ during the simulation.
Hunt, however, believes what he was asked to do during Cygnus was ‘morally repugnant’ and says that by ‘pausing’ the simulation he forced an ‘important rethinking’ that has proved valuable in managing the current outbreak.
One source outlined the fictitious scenario that Exercise Cygnus was testing: ‘The hospitals were full and Hunt was asked to make the call as part of the exercise. But instead of doing so he basically said “I’m not playing anymore”. People were very cross as it mucked up the exercise.’
A spokesman for Hunt said: ‘In the exercise, Jeremy was asked to make a decision to switch off all the life support machines in the country leading to an immediate 4,000 deaths. He believed that was morally repugnant so paused the exercise to explain that if ministers were being asked to make such decisions we were clearly not dealing with the issue in a sensible way.
‘The result of Jeremy’s intervention was extensive and important rethinking about how we avoid getting into such a situation, as we have thankfully been able to do during the current pandemic.’
This document reveals the very real life and death decisions that were made at the outbreak of the pandemic.
During the exercise the NHS was charged with modelling the impact of hospital closures to ‘identify lives saved or lost’.
It was also asked to devise a ‘rapid discharge protocol’ so better decisions could be made on whether someone stays in hospital or is ‘discharged to residential care’.
When the pandemic first broke, it was openly discussed that there were not enough ventilators for everyone, and decisions would have to be made about who gets one and who doesn’t, based on age and ‘survival chances’.
It has since been well documented that elderly patients were then discharged from hospitals without being tested and sent back to care homes, to clear beds for younger patients.
Almost 30,000 more care home residents in England and Wales died during the coronavirus outbreak than during the same period in 2019, ONS figures show, with at least two-thirds directly attributable to Covid-19.
Meanwhile, as many as 90 Tory MPs want to form an equivalent of the European Research Group to oppose Johnson’s tactic of regional lockdowns.
The Tory rebels have vowed to set up the group if the government fails to come up with a ‘plan B’ to tackle the pandemic.
Steve Baker, a former chair of the ERG which led the Brexit backbench rebellions, has been urged by the Tory extreme rightwing MPs to adopt the same approach to put the case for an alternative strategy to perpetual lockdowns.
This is a wing of the party that wants to keep capitalism going at all costs, even if it means the lives of the elderly and vulnerable are lost as a result.
One senior Tory MP said: ‘It feels to all of us as if the public is in a different place and is starting to question the efficacy of lockdowns. They realise there are serious consequences to them. The government seems to be behind the curve on all of that.
‘Enormous damage is being done to people’s lives and economy which is becoming more apparent every day particularly in areas where there are Tier 3 lockdowns that are increasing in size all the time.’