There is an abyss between plans and their implementation, and the UK lacks a joined-up system with a nested hierarchy of compatible plans, from local to national, says Prof David E Alexander
To ask “did the UK Government prepare for the wrong kind of pandemic?” (21 May) is a little too reminiscent of British Rail’s “wrong kind of snow”. Granted, stockpiling influenza antivirals could be seen as a waste of money if no pandemic materialises before they expire. However, at least 90% of the preparedness measures for Sars are the same as those for an influenza pandemic. We are dealing with a medical, epidemiological, social, economic and psychological problem, and exactly what type of virus is involved is not so important.
In the successive versions of the UK’s National Risk Register (2008-17), influenza is consistently the No 1 risk. That Sars is not an influenza virus is immaterial, as “influenza” is a surrogate for any virus with high reproducibility in humans and a significant case-fatality rate. In the government’s response to the current crisis, the deficiencies have not been in scientific advice, but in the marginalisation of emergency planning and management – in the context, of course, of declining health, social care and welfare services.