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Evidence given in Parliament on lessons learned from the pandemic

By March 6, 2024No Comments

In the latest Health and Social Care Committee hearing, Professor Sir John Bell and Professor Dame Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of UKHSA, provided their thoughts on how the UK is preparing for future pandemics and what lessons have been learnt over the last four years.

In the first session, Professor Bell outlined his fears that, should a more deadly pandemic arise in future, the UK’s health system risked collapsing. He then recommended that the UK work with the wider UK Commonwealth community to generate sequences and put them into a cloud-based database to better prepare for the next pandemic.

He was also asked about the UK’s prevention agenda in health, which he said the UK fared poorly at, stating there needed to be a greater focus on diagnosing disease earlier and bolster services tackling common diseases such as diabetes.

Professor Harries said she wished to embed the learnings from the COVID inquiry, with three related pieces of work already underway at UKHSA: systematic preparedness about detection and surveillance; diagnostics, including ensuring a quick turnaround of tests; and vaccine development.

Conservative Chair of the Science, Innovation and Technology Committee Greg Clark asked whether she would be able to revise the termination of contracts with two labs to ensure there is an “always on” facility for testing.

Professor Harries said the UKHSA is always on and can scale up quickly to roughly 20,000 tests per day with the support of NHS labs. She said it would be extremely expensive to maintain the level of testing at the two private labs at all times.

Professor Harries stated that oversight of pandemic preparedness ultimately sits with DHSC, with UKHSA primed to support their efforts. The UK is currently working with Korea to learn from their experience of the pandemic, as their data and laboratory capacity is very good.

Ben Kemp