2016 Government pandemic exercise revealed NHS shortages and lack of protective equipment


Government pandemic exercise predicted a virus coming from Asia would overwhelm an NHS desperately short of protective equipment and ventilators but nothing was done

  • Exercise Cygnus was carried out by Imperial College epidemiologists in 2016 
  • Set seven weeks into pandemic that came from Asia similar to H2N2 influenza 
  • Experts told ministers NHS would suffer shortages but report wasn’t revealed 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

A Government exercise four years ago predicted a deadly virus from Asia would arrive in the UK and leave the NHS on its knees, it was revealed today. 

In October 2016, epidemiologists from Imperial College London told Government ministers what Britain would look like seven weeks into a pandemic. 

Exercise Cygnus showed the NHS unable to cope, with a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for doctors and nurses, inadequate numbers of ventilators and mortuaries overflowing. 

It was carried out by the same experts responsible for the nation’s coronavirus modelling, but the results were never revealed, reports the Sunday Telegraph. 

Urgent questions have now been raised over why then-Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s administration failed to act on the alarming findings.  

In October 2016, epidemiologists from Imperial College London told Government ministers what Britain would look like seven weeks into a pandemic and revealed the NHS on its knees, a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for NHS staff (pictured) and a lack of beds

Urgent questions have now been raised over why then-Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt's (he is pictured at St George's Hospital Tooting in 2017) administration failed to act on the alarming findings

Urgent questions have now been raised over why then-Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s (he is pictured at St George’s Hospital Tooting in 2017) administration failed to act on the alarming findings

A paper detailing Imperial’s research read: ‘The exercise was set seven weeks into a severe pandemic outbreak and challenged the NHS to review its response to an overwhelmed service with reduced staff availability.’   

Cygnus was based on a virus similar to H2N2 influenza, which like COVID-19 causes deadly respiratory illness in patients. 

It pretended that the hypothetical virus had reported its first cases in South East Asia two months before. 

The infection had then arrived in the UK a month later via a group of travellers. 

It had not yet reached its peak in the researchers’ scenario, but the NHS was already ‘about to fall over’, according to the paper. 

Cygnus highlighted a terrifying lack of critical care beds, ventilators and general NHS capacity. 

It came at a time when Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was cutting beds.

The model also showed that the Government’s emergency messaging was not resonating with the public – similar to the situation Boris Johnson has found himself in this week. 

Boris Johnson is writing to every home in Britain warning them that they must stay home or suffer even more devastating consequences than we face now

Boris Johnson is writing to every home in Britain warning them that they must stay home or suffer even more devastating consequences than we face now 

Mr Johnson is writing to every home in Britain warning them that they must stay home or suffer even more devastating consequences than we face now. 

The Government’s leading epidemiology advisor Professor Neil Ferguson yesterday warned Britons that they will need to stay indoors for a full three months to stem the spread of the virus. 

The Government's leading epidemiology advisor Professor Neil Ferguson (pictured) yesterday warned Britons that they will need to stay indoors for a full three months to stem the spread of the virus

The Government’s leading epidemiology advisor Professor Neil Ferguson (pictured) yesterday warned Britons that they will need to stay indoors for a full three months to stem the spread of the virus 

Yesterday, the UK death toll reached 1,019, with more than 17,000 cases reported nationwide.  

Questions have been raised as to why Exercise Cygnus never saw the light of day.

One source, close to the Government at the time, said the results were ‘too terrifying’ to be made public.

They told the Telegraph: ‘It’s right to say that the NHS was stretched beyond breaking point [by Cygnus]. 

‘People might say we have blood on our hands, but the fact is that it’s always easier to manage the last outbreak than the one coming down the track. Hindsight is a beautiful thing.’ 

Although little can be found about it online, a very small number of local authorities mention the term ‘Cygnus’ in their contingency planning.   

These include Croydon Council’s ‘Pandemic Response Plan’ from earlier this month, Rotherham’s Health Protection annual report from 2016 and Northamptonshire’s Health and Wellbeing Board annual report from 2018.    

Yesterday, the UK death toll reached 1,019, with more than 17,000 cases reported nationwide

Yesterday, the UK death toll reached 1,019, with more than 17,000 cases reported nationwide

Leave a Comment