Legal claim filed against Government over decision to suppress full results of 2016 pandemic drill

A legal claim has been filed in the High Court against Health Secretary Matt Hancock over the Government’s decision not to make public the full findings of a 2016 drill that tested preparedness for a flu pandemic.

NHS doctor Moosa Qureshi and journalist Tommy Greene, who are represented by law firm Leigh Day, are calling for the decision not to disclose the full findings to be declared unlawful.

They say the results of the simulation exercise must be published as the analysis is critical to holding the Government to account over its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 2016 exercise, codenamed Cygnus, tested the country’s ability to handle an influenza outbreak.

The three-day operation involved all levels of national, regional and local government as well as police and other organisations.

According to a report leaked to The Guardian last month, the exercise identified a “lack of joint tactical-level plans” for a public health emergency, with demand for services outstripping local capacity.

It also reportedly identified concerns about the expectation the social care system would be able to provide the level of support needed in the event of a serious outbreak.

However, Dr Qureshi and Mr Greene believe that the full findings would also show the extent to which the UK had gaps in its stockpiling of personal protective equipment and inadequate provisions for critical care in hospitals.

Mr Greene says that the Government has denied Freedom of Information requests for full disclosure of the findings, leaving himself and Dr Qureshi with little choice but to take legal action in the interest of “Government transparency and accountability”.

“There is an overwhelming public interest in the full publication of the Cygnus Exercise’s findings,” he said.

“This is both true for affording the public a sense of ownership in Government decisions as well as it is for allowing adequate scrutiny of policy to take place – which, in turn, will result in more effective governance.

“Like many of my colleagues when enquiring into the handling of the pandemic, I have encountered a Government response that has so far been characterised by secrecy and evasiveness.

“As we’re witnessing a considerable erosion of public trust in the face of a potential second wave, and as checks on decision-making – like the FOI Act – are weakened further, the argument for government transparency and accountability here could not be more urgent.”

Dr Qureshi added that Mr Hancock’s refusal to disclose the entire report “shows his callous disregard for human life.

“It damages our national response to this public health emergency if pandemic data is hidden from the nurses and doctors who are managing this crisis on the ground.

“We have repeatedly engaged with the Government to make the case for transparency but unfortunately the Health Secretary has refused to allow us to learn from Cygnus, without rhyme or reason.

“Regretfully, I have therefore been forced to instruct my solicitors to issue legal proceedings against the Government in the national interest.”

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