Campaign to have Cygnus report published succeeds

By agency reporter
November 18, 2020

A six-month campaign led by an NHS doctor to have the full report into a pandemic preparation exercise published has successfully forced the Health Secretary to disclose Public Health England’s Cygnus report. 

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has finally posted on the government website the Public Health England report into Exercise Cygnus, carried out in 2016. Dr Moosa Qureshi, together with freelance journalist Tommy Greene, hailed the publication as a victory for their legal campaign for transparency during the Coronavirus pandemic.

The DHSC has stated that it holds no further information regarding Exercise Cygnus and therefore asked the claimants to withdraw their application for judicial review of the government’s refusal to publish the reports, which they have done.
 
During the past six months, the DHSC had repeatedly refused to publish the reports into Exercise Cygnus following a Freedom of Information request by Dr Qureshi and Mr Greene, saying that it needed more time to weigh up whether it would be in the public interest.
 
At the same time an application for judicial review was refused on the papers, partly on the grounds that an FOI request should have been decided before the legal processes would have been complete. 
 
Last month the Information Commissioner gave the DHSC a deadline to publish the reports. An appeal into the decision to refuse the application for judicial review was due to be heard on Thursday, 19 November.
 
The DHSC has, in asking Dr Qureshi and Mr Greene to withdraw their court action, confirmed that it holds no further reports evidencing the findings of Exercise Cygnus.
 
Dr Qureshi said: "It's remarkable that the Health Secretary refused to publish the Cygnus Report in response to our initial pre-action request in April 2020, forced us to go to court in the public interest, and then published his report before our Judicial Review renewal hearing. While NHS professionals continue to work fast and hard to keep patients alive in an under-resourced service, ministers seem happy to delay and throw taxpayers' money away on expensive legal manoeuvrings.”
 
Dr Qureshi said he and Mr Greene would be pressing for the gaps in transparency regarding NHS preparedness and what findings were made in this regard to be filled.
 
Dr Qureshi added: “We know that pandemic modelling during the Cygnus process from 2014 to 2016 revealed that the UK was inadequately prepared for the healthcare challenge of a viral pandemic, and events on the ground have demonstrated that we continued to be unprepared until 2020 and continue to be unprepared today. Therefore – notwithstanding the Department of Health's evasive tactics – we remain committed to locating and interrogating the Government's pandemic preparedness data in the interests of public health and democratic transparency.”
 
Tommy Greene said: "I and a number of other journalists have been pressing for the findings of Exercise Cygnus to be published since the springtime. It is deeply regrettable that Matt Hancock so clearly neglected his duty to be transparent with the public regarding the UK's pandemic preparedness for so long, before publishing the PHE report into Cygnus – which he seems to suggest is a repository of the simulation's full findings.

"We remain unconvinced that this, in an exercise involving dozens of participating organisations, is the full picture the public deserves. Our campaign has pushed the Secretary of State to at least meet some degree of accountability in this area, but a number of important questions still remain unanswered. For instance, as of yet, his claim that all of the exercise's relevant findings and recommendations have been 'actioned' remains unsubstantiated.

"The withholding of any information that could be vital to how this country tackles COVID-19 is a gross dereliction of the duty required of those appointed to public office. It also sets a worrying precedent for government responses to future national emergencies. We therefore urge the Secretary of State to ensure that both the full findings of Exercise Cygnus and details covering the full extent of their implementation are made available to both the scientific community and the wider public without any further delay."   
 
Dr Qureshi and Mr Greene are represented by Leigh Day partner Tessa Gregory. She said: “Our clients have been appalled by the Government’s lack of transparency in relation to this matter. They are determined to continue their fight to reveal how and if the recommendations from Exercise Cygnus were implemented, as that remains key to the way in which the Government is responding to the current pandemic.”

* Read the report into Exercise Cygnus here

* Department of Health and Social Care https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-of-health-and-social-care

* Leigh Day https://www.leighday.co.uk/

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