Ex-vaccine tsar Kate Bingham warns the civil service is ‘reverting back’ to bureaucracy which will leave the UK unprepared for a future health crisis as she says pandemics should be treated as seriously as defence threats
The UK’s former vaccine tsar has accused the civil service of ‘reverting back’ to bureaucracy as she warned a focus on red tape rather than action will leave the country ill-prepared for another pandemic.
Dame Kate Bingham, a venture capitalist who led the Government’s Covid vaccines taskforce last year, has blasted Whitehall for lacking the skills needed to respond to a health crisis.
She said a ‘lack of scientific expertise and a culture that is focused on process, not on outcome’ will not ‘set us up well’ for a future pandemic.
Dame Kate said ‘this is not the time to sit back on our laurels’ as she urged the Government and the civil service to ‘recognise that pandemic threats are as serious as defence threats and should be invested and supported in the same way’.
Dame Kate Bingham, a venture capitalist who led the Government’s Covid vaccines taskforce last year, has blasted Whitehall for lacking the skills needed to respond to a health crisis
Dame Kate, who spearheaded efforts to secure Covid vaccines, accused the civil service of ‘reverting back’ to bureaucracy
Dame Kate used a speech at Oxford University last night to warn that a lack of scientific knowledge among mandarins and ministers had left the country ‘woefully unprepared’ for coronavirus and risked causing problems if the country is faced with a new killer disease.
She said there is a ‘devastating’ lack of skills and experience in science, industry, commerce and manufacturing in the civil service and criticised a culture of ‘group think and risk aversion’ that ‘stifles initiative and encourages foot-dragging’.
She renewed her attack this morning as she told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme: ‘The problem that we faced was this lack of scientific expertise and a culture that is focused on process, not on outcome, just slows things down.
‘My speech last night was focusing not to say that we were unable to achieve what we did last year but it seems to be reverting back to this very bureaucratic approach, suspicion of industry which is not going to set us up well for any future pandemics – and there will be future pandemics.’
Dame Kate said that when she was in charge of spearheading the UK’s efforts to secure coronavirus vaccines there was ‘no lack of willingness or hard work or commitment to support our work’ from officials.
‘But if you don’t have the skills it is very difficult to be effective,’ she added.
She criticised the Government’s approach of bringing in external consultants to deal with problems as she warned ‘that is not a long term, sustainable way of working’.
It was suggested to Dame Kate that such an approach of being ‘light on your feet’ could be advantageous.
But she replied: ‘Well, you could make exactly that same argument for defence yet we do invest in our defence forces, we do recognise it is important to look around the world and have the intelligence to plan for all sorts of different scenarios when it comes to our national defence.
‘Yet the argument you have just said is “well that’s fine, we can just bring experts in when we need it”.
‘That will be too late and this pandemic, devastating though it was, could have been a lot worse.
‘It could have been more lethal, it could have been a virus that mutates much more rapidly which means you can’t develop vaccines.
‘So this is not the time to sit back on our laurels, this is the time to recognise that pandemic threats are as serious as defence threats and should be invested and supported in the same way.’
Asked how she would assess the UK’s preparedness for another health crisis, she replied: ‘So I don’t think it is particularly strong which is why I gave the speech and made the points at the Oxford speech last night.
‘We don’t have science in any way included in policy making.’