National Audit Office, London
National Audit Office, London

The National Audit Office (NAO) today issued a report on the breadth of government’s response to Covid-19.

The report draws out “initial learning” help government evaluate its performance, capitalise on new ways of working and better manage potential future emergencies.

It says Covid-19 has stress-tested the government’s ability to deal with unforeseen events and extreme shocks. Like many countries, the UK was not as prepared for the pandemic as it could have been, and government lacked detailed contingency plans to manage the unfolding situation. To deal with the crisis, government has had to streamline decision-making and coordinate efforts across multiple departments, public and private sector bodies. There are many examples of impressive national and local responses to the urgent need for healthcare and economic support on an unprecedented scale.

The response to the pandemic has provided a vast amount of new learning, both from what has worked well and what has not. It has highlighted the importance of government adopting a more systematic approach to preparing for crises, improving the resilience of key services and making better use of data. Working at pace naturally introduces greater levels of risk, but being transparent, properly documenting decisions and managing conflicts of interest is essential if government is to maintain public trust that taxpayers’ money is being spent appropriately and fairly.

Covid-19 has also laid bare existing fault lines within society and has exacerbated inequalities. An unreformed adult social care system, workforce shortages, issues caused by legacy IT systems, and the financial pressure felt by central and local government all require long-term solutions.

Today’s report sets out learning from the NAO’s 17 published reports on Covid-19 across six themes: risk management, transparency and public trust, data and evidence, coordination and delivery models, supporting and protecting people, and financial and workforce pressures

The NAO will continue to draw out learning from the government’s response to Covid-19 in its future work on the pandemic, to provide Parliament and the public with timely reporting to support accountability.

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said: “Covid-19 has required government to respond to an exceptionally challenging and rapidly changing threat. There is much to learn from the successes and failures in government’s response and this report is our initial contribution to that process. Applying these lessons is not only important for the remaining phases of the current pandemic but should also help better prepare the UK for future emergencies.”NAO report shows Government should have done more to protect health and social care from pandemic

Commenting the report, Danny Mortimer, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “This report re-emphasises the long-term issues that severely weakened the foundations of health and care, which meant the country was not better prepared to deal with the pandemic and its fallout. Chronic workforce shortages across the NHS, coupled with ongoing financial pressures, have contributed to the devastation wrought over the past year – something the government should have worked harder to alleviate before the pandemic took hold and which still remain a profound challenge.

 “There are also many vital lessons for the government to learn from the past fourteen months, including the need for speed in imposing lockdowns, something that is particularly important to bear in mind as we are seeing a worrying rise in the number cases of the variant of Covid-19 first identified in India.

“Importantly, this report also highlights the ever more pressing need to make sure reform of the social care sector is swift and far-reaching. The two are sister services, and when one is hit hard, so is the other. Our members stand with their colleagues in social care in their dismay that the experiences highlighted so starkly in this report did not result in the promised action by the prime minister and chancellor.”

Date published: May 19, 2021

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