Tories knew NHS couldn’t cope with pandemic

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Junior doctors – attacked by the Tories in 2016 – the same year as the pandemic exercise

THE TORY government hid the outcome of an exercise it conducted on how the NHS would cope with a pandemic because it considered the results ‘terrifying’, it was revealed yesterday.

A three-day major exercise in October 2016 testing the UK’s ability to deal with a pandemic, codenamed Cygnus, exposed ‘terrifying’ failings, yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported.
The exercise found that the NHS would be quickly overwhelmed in the event of a severe disease outbreak.
A classified report on Cygnus’s findings which has never been made public, highlighted problems delivering protective equipment such as masks and gowns to health workers and warned that there would be no choice but to ‘switch off’ large parts of the NHS.
Organisations involved in the exercise ranged from NHS trusts to the military and British Medical Association.
Among its conclusions was that a pandemic could result in doctors having to adopt a ‘battlefield’ mentality and prioritise patients for treatment depending on survival chances.
Ministers were briefed on the results of Cygnus, which revealed that there were significant gaps in the NHS ‘surge capacity’ and included a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) and intensive care unit (ICU) beds.
Cygnus was a three-day test exercise carried out in October 2016, in the midst of the junior doctors struggle against Hunt and the Tories onslaught on the NHS.
While then-health secretary Hunt was waging war against the junior doctors, ministers were told that hospitals would rapidly run out of intensive care beds in the event of a pandemic.
Despite the shocking findings, it did not lead to the government changing its policies of cutting NHS recourses, intensive care beds or withdrawing the bursary from student nurses and midwives.
An unnamed former senior member of the government was reported in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph as admitting: ‘There has been a reluctance to put Cygnus out in the public domain because frankly it would terrify people.
‘It’s right to say that the NHS was stretched beyond breaking point (by Cygnus).
‘People might say we have blood on our hands, but the fact is that it’s always easier to manage the last outbreak than the one coming down the track. Hindsight is a beautiful thing.’

  • The number of people who have died with the coronavirus in the UK reached 1,228 yesterday, an increase of 209 since Saturday.

There are now 19,522 confirmed cases in the UK, latest figures show.
• See editorial