Government 'too reliant on scientific advice' during early days of Covid-19

Following scientific advice on coronavirus was not enough to ensure correct decisions were made at the right time by the UK Government, a report has claimed.

The study by the Institute for Government think-tank into the first responses to the pandemic concluded that ministers should have been prepared to act in the “absence of scientific certainty”.

The IfG also criticised the drive to reach 100,000 tests per day by the end of April, saying the diagnostics industry and the NHS were not consulted before the pledge was made.

It said the Government “lacked a wider sense of strategy” at times, and accused Health Secretary Matt Hancock of making the testing commitment “without a strong enough sense of how the Government would use additional capacity”.

The report said: “Ministers made much of ‘following the science’. But it is not enough to use evidence: ministers and civil servants also need to understand the limitations of both the evidence base and the forums through which it is channelled, and, difficult as it might be, ministers must be prepared to act in the absence of scientific certainty.

“Failure to do so now seems likely to have cost a significant number of additional lives, and contributed to the UK suffering the highest excess death rate in Europe over the period to the end of May.”



The think-tank also said that while school closures and social distancing measures were contemplated in February, some “key aspects of making them work – like remote learning arrangements for schools and guidance for police – were not considered until after decisions had been made”.

However, the report praised the successful rollout of economic support measures, which the it said showed that ministers and officials “can find fast ways to consult those who will be affected by a policy or programme and think through how it will be carried out, before making a decision”.

Sarah Nickson, researcher at the IfG, said: “Poor decision making is not an inevitable consequence of a crisis. But in a fast-moving situation, there may be little time or opportunity to fix early mistakes.

“That means that consulting fast and considering implementation at the outset are all the more crucial.”

Alex Thomas, programme director at the IfG, said: “The best decisions are made when the Government knows not just what it wants to do, but why it wants to do it.

“At times, during its early response to the pandemic, the Government lacked a wider sense of strategy. Greater focus on why it was taking decisions – ultimately to save lives – would have led to better outcomes all round.”

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