In November 2020 the UK government published its latest edition of the National Risk Register. The previous edition was published in 2017. There is an obvious before-and-after-Covid comparison to be made here, and so I sat down with both documents in front of me to compile some notes. This is some of what I came up with:

Before Covid (2017):

There is nothing featured on the front cover.

After Covid (2020):

The front cover carries a photo of flooding in York. No sign of any coronaviruses though.

Before Covid (2017):

A forward written by Caroline Nokes, Minister for Government Resilience and Efficiency, carries a photograph of her smiling with the confidence expected of a resilient and efficient government.

After Covid (2020):

A forward written by Penny Mordaunt, Paymaster General, carries a photograph of her looking as though she is about to break down in tears.

Before Covid (2017):

The risk matrix indicates that a pandemic of a flu-like disease presents the highest risk faced by the nation. It is one of the most likely risks to materialise and it would have the greatest impact (20,000 to 750,000 expected mortalities).

After Covid (2020):

The risk matrix still considers that a potential pandemic would have the highest impact of all the risks that the nation faces, but pandemic has been moved down a level as far as likelihood is concerned – extreme weather events of national importance are now considered more likely. Conveniently, as the footnote explains, Covid-19 is not included in the matrix.

Perhaps all of this explains why a picture of city-centre flooding appears on the front of the latest edition, despite it following a year in which the world has suffered death by lockdown and virus.

Belatedly, a lot more detail is provided regarding infectious diseases, multiple waves, concurrent pandemics, etc.

Before Covid (2017):

Despite identifying pandemic as the greatest risk, the document covers environmental matters first.

After Covid (2020):

Despite pandemic having proved to be the greatest risk, the document still covers environmental matters first.

Before Covid (2017):

The claim is made that the government has planned well for a pandemic: “You can find a considerable amount of information and guidance online about the public health response to pandemic flu, including guidance aimed at specific organisations such as schools and higher education institutions, businesses, cleaning staff, and fire and rescue services.”

Note here that care homes are missing from the list. Indeed, when following the embedded link, it turns out that all of the available planning documents pre-date the 2017 register, except that written for care homes, which was not published until November 2020. A bit late, some might say.

After Covid (2020):

The new statement on planning reads: “The UK government is taking an evidence-based approach to prepare for the next influenza pandemic. Contingency plans exist for many emerging infectious diseases, and the UK government is continually learning the lessons from previous infectious disease outbreaks, including COVID-19, to inform preparation for future infectious disease outbreaks and pandemics.”

I presumes this includes lessons like: Don’t turf covid-19 patients out of hospital back into care homes for which the government has provided absolutely no planning, guidance or suitable facilities.

Before Covid (2017):

No claims are made to the effect that the plans are reviewed or stress tested.

After Covid (2020):

It is now claimed that regular reviews of plans are undertaken by experts and stress testing exercises are regularly performed. The implication is that this is a recent innovation (post 2017, at least, but I’m betting post 2019), in which case a lot is explained, including the look on Mordaunt’s face.

Before Covid (2017):

No claim is made for having quickly re-scalable testing capabilities and capacity.

After Covid (2020):

Lots of boasting about the rapid expansion of testing capacity during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Before Covid (2017):

Claims that enough anti-viral medication is in store.

After Covid (2020):

Same sentence but the word ‘enough’ seems to have gone missing.

Before Covid (2017):

Claims that PPE exists for emergency responders. No mention of sufficiency.

After Covid (2020):

Still claims that PPE exists for emergency responders and still no mention of sufficiency.

Before Covid (2017):

Regarding what the people can do to protect themselves: “For pandemic flu, good hygiene remains the most effective defence until a vaccine can be developed.”

It’s a bit disconcerting to see the trust that the government was placing in the benefits of good hygiene prior to Covid-19.

After Covid (2020):

Now states: “Information to explain how the public can protect themselves and access services, social distancing measures and interventions are targeted at specific sectors and industries.”

So now it’s not just about good hygiene but also about doing what we are told. It’s interesting that the government had not anticipated the need for social distancing measures and other ‘interventions’. So much for their brilliant planning.

Before Covid (2017):

No mention is made of the importance of a resilient NHS and how this is to be ensured.

After Covid (2020):

States: “Tried and tested surge plans exist to increase secondary care capacity and mechanisms to reduce pressure on primary care services (e.g. establishing the Nightingale hospitals to ensure capacity is available during the COVID-19 pandemic).”

Tried and tested? Mmm. I wonder what the test results were.

Before Covid (2017):

No case study for a pandemic is offered.

After Covid (2020):

An extra section is added offering Covid-19 as a case study. It seems to have been written to convince the reader that everything ran smoothly and this was down to good governance. I’ll spare you the details; you can read it for yourself.

Summary

Twenty-twenty vision hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing and, in a way, it is gratifying to see a much better informed and detailed document emerging in 2020. Furthermore, it would be unreasonable for me to expect the government to have foreseen all of the calamity that has befallen during the last year. However, there are still some risk management basics that one might expect to have been in place long before Covid-19 turned up. For example, one of my duties before I retired was to write my employer’s business continuity plan. Unsurprisingly, it included a section regarding the potential impact of a viral pandemic. It also included a schedule for the plan’s regular review and how the plan was to be tested (a combination of desk-top checking and practical exercises). It never occurred to me that the plan should sit on a shelf, untested until the day it was needed. And yet that appears to have been the government’s approach leading into 2020. Not anymore, I’m pleased to say – after all, they claim to be learning all the time. All the same, there are some things that one would hope didn’t need to be learned, and when I look at the differences between the 2017 and 2020 documents it strikes me that too many of the improvements fall into that category.

Ah well. Better luck with the next pandemic.

via Climate Scepticism

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January 21, 2021 at 04:03AM