I must admit, I’m really enjoying the Covid Inquiry. Now the Rugby World Cup is over, it’s far more entertaining than anything else on TV. Inspired casting of Dominic Cummings as the evil genius, assisted by Uriah Heap-like Lee Cain. The persecution of the dignified and serene female lead, Ms. Helen MacNamara. Urbane and polished advocate Hugo Keith KC feeds the lines to smoothly serpiginous Simon Stevens – as always, the best politician in the room. There are moments of genuine hilarity as senior civil servants swoon at salty language from Cummings. I strongly suggest they steer away from members of my profession, who are quite capable of expressing dissatisfaction using vocabulary that would make a docker blush. Tension builds inexorably towards the grand entrance of Box Office Boris – don’t forget to tune in, folks.
I do get the feeling however that the Noble Lady Hallet looks slightly bored – quite possibly because she wrote up her conclusions well before the process started and may be finding the performative part a bit tedious.
Because whatever we are watching in Dorland House, 121 Westbourne Terrace, is certainly not an inquiry. This matters, because what we are witnessing is the production of official history. History in its original Greek meaning is defined as an inquiry. An investigation into why things happened, not just a recitation of events.
Dominic Cummings wrote a fascinating 115-page witness statement, which you can access here. There is much of interest in this document. So why did the formidably capable Mr. Keith choose to concentrate on a few hurty words uttered by Cummings and ignore the matters of great substance which had huge relevance to decision making and governance? Mr. Keith is a professional advocate. He is well remunerated for crafting an argument favourable to those who are paying him. I suggest that is precisely what he is doing.
Regular readers will be familiar with my fascination for drilling down into details, but today I’d like to make a broad general observation about Cummings written testimony, which seems to describe a ‘game of two halves’. First half, the Greek chorus aligns in one direction, chanting in unison about herd immunity, focused protection, staying at home if symptomatic, and so on. I like that – its Great Barrington before Great Barrington became a thing. That’s described by the officials as ‘Plan A’.
Then suddenly, around the period from March 9th–15th everything changes. The chorus turns 180 degrees and chants about NHS overwhelm, imminent catastrophe and the imperative for lockdown – or ‘Plan B’ for short. Why?
There is simply too much detail and conflicting information in the mountain of written evidence for one person to tease out the answers – which is precisely why a proper inquiry is needed. My brief reading of the situation reveals a growing sense of panic and fear, driven above all by Professor Ferguson’s graphs of doom, best illustrated in paragraph three of page 32 in Cummings statement. The detail behind this is reflected in an email exchange between Vallance, Whitty and Ferguson dated March 15th.
Ferguson describes a “reasonable worst-case scenario” (RWC). In the RWC, the peak requirement for ICU beds in England is over 180,000, with almost half a million general hospital beds needed for the less critically ill. Think about that. The NHS in England has about 4,700 ICU beds at maximum surge capacity. I haven’t so far seen any detailed reference to the critical supply constraint – the number of ICU trained nurses available. It takes years to train an ICU nurse, so no matter how many ventilators were produced by Dyson, without the nursing staff to go with them, such efforts were meaningless. There is also no detailed commentary on how likely the RWC was. Clearly, if there was a 1% that the RWC would materialise, this may not have been consequential. Yet all of the major players seem to have accepted that the RWC was overwhelmingly likely without lockdown restrictions – why was that? Where was intellectual curiosity amongst our key decision makers?
In retrospect, of course, we know that Ferguson’s numbers were complete nonsense. Yet his interventions were the critical assertions which scuppered the initial plan, loosely referred to as the ‘Swedish approach’. Had we stuck to Plan A, it’s a reasonable inference that the country would be in much better shape than it currently is. Despite this, Ferguson was given the most deferential treatment during his questioning. Again, I ask why?
A proper inquiry would take Ferguson’s modelling apart, line by line. Dissect all the assumptions made. Investigate how the algorithms were set up. Find out who wrote the computer code on which the model was based and what individuals were involved in putting the model together. What inputs were made to derive the RWC and other scenarios? Who decided on those parameters and why? Ferguson is merely the mouthpiece for people who constructed a machine which locked up the entire population for months on end, wrecked the economy and caused massive collateral damage to general healthcare, children’s education and mental health.
A proper inquiry would reveal everything about these backroom people. What their backgrounds and beliefs were. Who paid them. Who guided and motivated them – and why.
That is what a proper inquiry would look like – and we aren’t going to get it because the people setting the terms and conditions of the inquiry don’t want to investigate these matters. Again, I ask why?
Those responsible for the catastrophe of lockdown have already banked their gains – taken the promotions and awards – baubles distributed to incentivise compliance and silence. An inquiry is far too dangerous. An inquiry might raise awkward questions. An inquiry might expose information that did not fit the officially sanctioned version of events. Far preferable to generate a comfortable consensus, even if it is the wrong consensus. Then we can do it all again next time.
Roll up, roll up, ladies and gentlemen – the next show will be starting shortly.
The author, the Daily Sceptic’s in-house doctor, is a former NHS consultant now in private practice.