Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has admitted the UK had been concentrating all of its pandemic planning only on flu.
Speaking on a Sky News’ special programme, Covid Crisis: Learning the Lessons, Mr Hunt – Britain’s longest ever serving health secretary – was candid.
Asked if he felt he should take some responsibility for the off-target NHS planning, he replied: “Yes, I do.
“We planned extensively for pandemics… but we now know we were planning for a flu pandemic.
“There was a ‘group think’ that pandemics were likely to be flu… we obviously know that’s not the case now.”
He said the original planning for the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine had started back in 2016 – but for dealing with the Ebola crisis.
“We have learned we have got to be much more open-minded to the kind of virus we might be subjected to, and be better at horizon scanning across the whole world – and really thinking what the risks are,” he said.
He admitted: “As a country – we have not got everything right in our pandemic handling.
“We need to learn lessons – and the biggest lesson of all is that in a pandemic you have to act faster than the virus.
“We were too slow to lockdown, we were too slow to get PPE problems sorted out and to get the Track and Trace capacity up and running.”
But he paid tribute to the country’s vaccine rollout and the NHS.
“We have been one of the fastest in the world when it comes to vaccine approval and distribution and that I think is our great hope,” he said.
“And the NHS can be very proud of what it has done.
“I think we need to make this a really big moment in the NHS’s history because it has just been through the biggest challenge.
“Frankly, it’s come out with flying colours. Every single patient who has needed a ventilator, or who has needed an intensive care bed has got one.”
And he called for a root and branch review of NHS staffing in an effort to address shortages.
“Our NHS staff are absolutely exhausted…so I think the one thing we could really do for NHS staff this year is put in place a long-term plan to sort out our workforce shortages.
“What NHS staff would like to know is that there was a proper plan in place so that over time we can deal with these issues.”