Intended for healthcare professionals


The parliamentary committee report on covid-19 response

BMJ 2021; 375 doi: (Published 15 October 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;375:n2530
  1. Deepti Gurdasani, senior lecturer in machine learning,
  2. Martin McKee, professor of European public health
  1. 1William Harvey Research Institute, Queen Mary University of London, London, UK
  2. 2Department of Health Services Research and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to: M McKee martin.mckee{at}

Have lessons really been learnt?

The Commons Health and Social Care and Science and Technology parliamentary committees have released a scathing report on the government’s covid-19 pandemic response, describing it as one of “the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced.”1 The list of failures was long. Ministers had delayed implementing the initial response, partly because they were viewing the crisis through “a veil of ignorance.” Care homes were effectively abandoned.2 A much lauded test and trace system had a “marginal impact on transmission.”

The few successes, such as development of a vaccine, the contribution of the armed forces, and the heroic efforts of NHS staff, are to be celebrated but do not compensate for the mistakes, including the many procurement scandals, that fell outside the report’s remit,3 as well as the many yet to be rectified.

The report is called Coronavirus: Lessons Learned to Date. Unfortunately, important lessons have still not been learnt. The report described how “comparisons with flu, and a fatalistic view of inevitable spread greatly impacted the pandemic response.” This fatalism is still evident, implicit in …

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