What are the Government hiding about their response to Covid-19?

by Dr Moosa Qureshi

What are the Government hiding about their response to Covid-19?

by Dr Moosa Qureshi
Dr Moosa Qureshi
Case Owner
I am a frontline NHS doctor who has campaigned with 54000doctors.org for patient safety and whistleblowing protection, and for Dr Bawa Garba's successful legal challenge against the medical regulator.
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Latest: Oct. 28, 2020

We have one big question for the Government

Following recent coverage of our story in the newspapers, it looks like our campaign is moving rapidly forwards! We've been blown away by your generous donations - they really open up options for…

Read more

Summary: 

The Government have failed in their duty of transparency by consistently refusing to disclose the report from the Cygnus Exercise. This exercise was carried out in 2016 to prepare the UK for an influenza pandemic - the top risk on the National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies. The Cygnus Report is directly relevant to the current Covid-19 pandemic, and we aim to force the Government to disclose it in full. This information will enable us to hold the Government accountable for their pandemic preparations and management.

"This legal case will enable us to hold the Government accountable for their pandemic preparations and management."

Background:

The Government have shamefully failed in their duty to provide transparency to healthcare workers and to the public regarding the scale of the Covid-19 crisis:


The Cygnus Exercise was carried out for the express purpose of informing Government, public health experts, medical practitioners, social care providers and the general public, on how best to prepare for an influenza pandemic. Press coverage suggests that it was initially envisaged that a report setting out the "learning and recommendations" from the Cygnus Exercise would be published, however this was never done because the findings were "too terrifying" to be revealed. Specifically, the Cygnus Report uncovered UK shortages of ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Why does it matter?

Data from the European CDC indicates that NHS hospitals have seen markedly increased mortality due to Covid-19. Ventilator capacity has been a serious issue which is likely to have contributed to our mortality rates.

In addition, high levels of reported mortality in UK care homes suggest that the true extent of the pandemic may have been underestimated, and that significant public health challenges remain unmet by Government policy.

"There is a clear public interest in publishing the Cygnus Report to allow the public to test the veracity of the statements being made by the Government."

There is a clear public interest in publishing the Cygnus Report to allow the public to test the veracity of the statements being made by the Government, and to take on board, at this critical juncture, the lessons and recommendations that are set out in the Report. Moreover, there is a general public interest in promoting transparency in Government, and in the Secretary of State taking whatever steps he can to increase public trust and confidence in the UK Government’s response to, and preparedness for, the Covid-19 outbreak and its aftermath.

What is the next step in the case?

We intend to challenge the Secretary of State's refusal to publish the Cygnus Report by way of Judicial Review and/or a Part 8 claim. We are also pursuing action under the Freedom of Information Act. We see this case as a first step in seeking accountability and transparency in Government decision making and we will not shy away from bringing further legal cases which need to be brought in the public interest.

Who we are:

I am a medical doctor working in a busy NHS hospital. I provide care for patients with blood disorders including leukaemia, who do particularly badly when infected with Covid-19. I have developed strong relationships with several healthcare watchdog organisations. I also have a track record of crowdfunding important legal victories. 

I have significant experience campaigning with 54000doctors.org for NHS whistleblowers including Dr Chris Day.  This groundbreaking case restored legal protection for 54,000 doctors to speak up for patient safety, which had been removed after the Government provided misleading information to British judges. I also co-organised the crowdfunding campaign for the landmark NHS case of Bawa-Garba v GMC, which has been described as "the case that rocked medicine". The Bawa-Garba case led directly to the Government ordering a review into manslaughter legislation.

"Leigh Day Solicitors and Tom Hickman QC... are a formidable legal team which will call the UK Government to account."

This current legal action is being undertaken by Leigh Day Solicitors – Legal 500’s "Public Sector Firm of the year" for 2020. Lead Counsel is Tom Hickman QC, who has worked on some of the UK’s most important public law cases and co-authored leading texts on Human Rights Law, and he is ably assisted by Jason Pobjoy also at Blackstone Chambers. This is a formidable team which will call the UK Government to account.

How much are we raising and why? 

Both Leigh Day and Counsel have agreed to act under a heavily Discounted Fee Agreement because of this case's importance in the public interest. We have an initial target of £5,000 but we will need more money to pay for Court fees, legal fees, and for any losses or liabilities which may arise from this case. 

What can you do? 

"Please donate and be part of this groundbreaking legal process."

  • Please donate and be part of this groundbreaking legal process - your generous donations are hugely appreciated and will go entirely to legal costs.
  • Please share this CrowdJustice page.
  • Please tweet messages in support with hashtag #JRCovid19 and tag @JRCovid19 and @54kdoctors. You can find me on @DrMQureshi.

Thank you for your support.

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Update 12

Dr Moosa Qureshi

Oct. 28, 2020

We have one big question for the Government

Following recent coverage of our story in the newspapers, it looks like our campaign is moving rapidly forwards! We've been blown away by your generous donations - they really open up options for our legal team to push hard.

Yesterday we received a letter from Government lawyers asking us to drop our case because Matt Hancock says he's published "the report" into Cygnus. Interestingly, his lawyers don't state that the Health Secretary's report discloses all the data we requested!

Today we've replied to the Government...



Our reply goes as follows:

  1. We have information from a trusted confidential source who worked on Cygnus at a senior level: There's a compendium report which doesn't resemble the report published by Matt Hancock, there's a specific report on how to prioritise care if we're overwhelmed by a pandemic, and there's individual reports from the agencies which participated in Exercise Cygnus.

  2. Matt Hancock's report doesn't contain data which must have been reported by Cygnus, according to information from Government sources. For instance, his report doesn't say anything about PPE and it only briefly mentions "surge capacity".

  3. The Telegraph has stated on 25 October : “The Telegraph understand that there are several subsidiary reports relating to Cygnus that have yet to be released... ”.

  4. We applied for Judicial Review because of the risk that the Department of Health & Social Care would not make a full disclosure to our Freedom of Information request - and Matt Hancock's version of the Cygnus Report confirms our concerns.

Then we've asked a very straightforward question from Matt Hancock's lawyers:

"Having regard to his duty of candour, is it the Secretary of State’s position that there are no further documents and reports forming part of the findings of Exercise Cygnus which have not been disclosed to our client? "


Since Matt Hancock has been careful not to take this position in yesterday's letter, we think the answer is "no" and we're going to say that in court. There were 44 agencies feeding into Exercise Cygnus. One of them must have told the Government that we didnt have the NHS beds, ICU staff, ventilators and PPE required to deal with a major pandemic. We need that data.

The stakes couldn't be higher: We've heard alarming news today that the second Covid wave is forecast to be more deadly than the first. Our Judicial Review renewal hearing is listed for 19 November, so the pressure is on. The shambolic mismanagement of this pandemic looks like it might extend into Christmas now and we need genuine disclosure ASAP so that the British people, alongside NHS professionals and independent scientists, have the data we need to sort this mess out together. Let's make some noise!

@DrMQureshi
@JRcovid19 @54kdoctors @LeighDay_Law

Update 11

Dr Moosa Qureshi

Oct. 25, 2020

The JRcovid19 campaign is moving fast now...

5 days after Matt Hancock told Parliament he had published "the report" into Exercise Cygnus, and 1 day after we challenged the content of that report, the Telegraph has provided more details about what really happened during the pandemic preparation exercise.

The Telegraph now reports that Jeremy Hunt was asked to switch off ventilators for thousands of patients - but this is entirely omitted from Matt Hancock's report on Cygnus! Ventilators and ICU provision are key questions in any respiratory viral pandemic, and the report published by the Government fails entirely to address these issues.



This new evidence from the Telegraph reinforces our concern that the Government isn't being straight with the British people about the learning points from Cygnus.

Thanks to your support, we've made serious dents into the Government's stone wall of secrecy, but we are determined to continue. It's essential that the full Cygnus data is disclosed so that it can be independently evaluated both for future pandemic planning and to understand why we were so poorly prepared for COVID-19 after a national multi-agency training exercise.

@DrMQureshi
@JRcovid19 @54kdoctors @LeighDay_Law

Update 10

Dr Moosa Qureshi

Oct. 25, 2020

Matt Hancock tells Parliament: I've published Cygnus !

This is important: Matt Hancock has told Parliament he's published the Cygnus Report.

But the Report he's published is the same document which has been in the public domain since 7 May. Why have his lawyers been telling us they couldn't respond to our request for disclosure since the last 5 months, if the report has already been widely available since May?

Today, the Guardian newspaper has again published our story, calling into question the Government's disclosure. The fact is that the report Matt Hancock has published says more about pandemic communications policy than it says about healthcare policy.

We're astonished that a Health Secretary is telling Parliament, the British people, NHS healthcare professionals and scientists that this is "the report" into Exercise Cygnus, a national pandemic exercise involving the NHS and Public Health England. A pandemic is a national healthcare emergency - Where's the healthcare data? Where's the analysis of ventilator capacity, intensive care capacity, NHS bed capacity?

We're increasingly concerned that the Government may be consciously denying Cygnus pandemic data to the general public, healthcare professionals and scientists, during a national crisis which has taken tens of thousands of British lives, and threatens to take many more.

We cannot allow politicians to act against the national interest and we've decided to fight on. Please spread the word: JRcovid19 !

@DrMQureshi
@JRcovid19 @54kdoctors @LeighDay_Law

Update 9

Dr Moosa Qureshi

Oct. 11, 2020

Great news: ICO orders Government to respond to our requests for Cygnus!

Things are looking up! The Information Commissioner's Office has ordered the Government to respond to our request for the Cygnus Reports!

Read the story in today's Observer here: Whitehall Told to Release Secret 2016 files on UK Pandemic Risks

We initially made our Freedom of Information requests to the Government on 20 April and 21 May 2020. The Government responded that they needed to balance the public interest before making a decision. Since then, they've been "balancing" for 6 months, but refused to make a decision on our FOI requests!

It's worse than that - the Government opposed our application for Judicial Review by arguing that the Freedom of Information route was more appropriate than JR, while at the same time they were obstructing the Freedom of Information process!

The ICO has now decided the Government's delaying tactics are unacceptable. The Government must either give us the Cygnus Reports or else issue a formal refusal, opening the door for our brilliant legal team to take legal action to the next level.

This is going to be a tough battle, but it's incredibly important to challenge this small cabal of politicians and advisers who are refusing to give us the data we need to fight Covid19 in the UK. The scientific community, healthcare workers and the general public deserve and need transparency during this national healthcare and economic crisis.

Thank you for your ongoing support, and please spread the word about our JRcovid19 campaign. Exercise Cygnus is an important step in your right to know about the decisions which affect your lives.



@DrMQureshi
@JRcovid19 @54kdoctors @LeighDay_Law

Update 8

Dr Moosa Qureshi

Sept. 2, 2020

Progress Report: Judicial Review and Freedom of Information

We've finally received a response from a High Court judge regarding our application for Judicial Review. He does not agree for our application to go forward under the Civil Contingencies Act, but he leaves the door open for judicial review of "a later decision or at a future point or on different grounds". We're not sure what this means!

However, the judge has also said the Secretary of State for Health will have provided a response to our parallel request under the Freedom of Information Act by now, and on this question we're absolutely sure he is incorrect. Matt Hancock continues to refuse to provide substantive responses to our FOIA requests, more than 3 months after we submitted them. We think this is completely unacceptable after more than 40,000 British deaths.

Mortality rates have thankfully fallen over the summer, but we remain deeply worried about what the future holds. Scientists are documenting the emergence of a new highly infectious D614G mutation of the COVID-19 virus, and serious challenges lie in the winter months ahead.

We've therefore decided to continue to push for information in the public interest through both JR and FOIA. Regarding the JR process, we think the High Court judge has made 4 serious errors in his decision not to allow Judicial Review to go forward, and we have submitted grounds for renewal of our JR application (you can see our grounds below). However, we will now push harder for information under the Freedom of Information Act and we may ultimately pursue this case to the Information Tribunal.

We continue to believe this case is an incredibly important test of both the Civil Contingencies Act, which is supposed to protect the UK population during national crises, and of principles of Freedom of Information in a functional democracy. The last 20 years have seen a series of pandemics: SARS, H1N1, MERS, Ebola, and now COVID-19. We urgently need democratic disclosure of information to protect ourselves during this pandemic as it evolves, and from future pandemics. Secrecy is unethical, un-scientific, and it's costing thousands of lives.

@DrMQureshi
@JRcovid19 @54kdoctors @LeighDay_Law


Update 7

Dr Moosa Qureshi

June 9, 2020

TV interview - why the Cygnus legal case is so important


Update 6

Dr Moosa Qureshi

June 1, 2020

Breaking: We have launched our application for expedited Judicial Review

Thanks to your generous donations, today we have filed and served our application for expedited Judicial Review against the Health Secretary. Three witness statements. Seventy-four documents. Four Key Authorities. 1010 pages. 41.9 megabytes of PDF arguing for full disclosure of the secret Cygnus Reports.

We have evidence that the leaked “Cygnus report” published by the Guardian is only one of several secret reports. In fact, the Government has a large amount of pandemic data from Cygnus which is informing the Government’s current strategy but which it is refusing to disclose because it’s politically embarrassed by its own previous failure to act on it.

We are arguing that transparency is essential for the scientific and healthcare communities to evaluate the Cygnus data and use it to come up with solutions to the current crisis. We are also arguing that transparency is essential so that the British public can be fully informed and engage democratically with the national challenges which lie ahead.

We have a team of high calibre lawyers who have a track record of holding the Government to account, working around the clock at an incredibly reduced cost. This is a groundbreaking case which can crack open what went wrong with #COVID19UK, and more importantly – give us the data to start making it right. We’re almost at our crowdfunding target, please continue to share with your friends and colleagues: https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/jrcovid19/

Read the story in today's Telegraph here: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/06/01/exercise-cygnus-nhs-doctors-legal-bid-force-government-release/

Kind regards,
@DrMQureshi
@JRcovid19 @54kdoctors @LeighDay_Law

Update 5

Dr Moosa Qureshi

May 29, 2020

Introducing the JRcovid19 team

We've already introduced Tom Hickman QC and Jason Pobjoy on our CrowdJustice page. They're both providing JRcovid19 with formidable legal representation of the highest calibre. This is an update on some of the other individuals who are playing key roles in the fight for COVID-19 transparency.

Firstly, Tommy Greene is acting as an additional claimant in our case against the Health Secretary. Tommy is a young freelance journalist who has written for a variety of newspapers in the UK and abroad on subjects as diverse as NHS patient safety and climate change. He wants full disclosure of the Cygnus Report because as an investigative journalist he wants to hold the Government to account, and he believes the public need this information in order to assess and critique current government decision making.

Leigh Day Solicitors have provided outstanding legal support in putting this groundbreaking legal case together. Tessa Gregory is a partner at Leigh Day and has played an incredibly important role in developing this project. She combines legal expertise with a genius for case management and a flair for team building. She also has a track record of holding the UK Government to account at the highest level. Tessa is assisted by Carolin Ott - an immensely talented dual-qualified lawyer who has worked tirelessly on our case and has previous experience working at both the International Criminal Tribunal and Harvard Law School.

Finally, we're delighted to announce the addition of Hollie Higgins to the JRcovid19 legal team. Hollie is a dynamic young barrister with a record of academic excellence at both Oxford and Harvard, who has recently assisted Michael Beloff QC and Ben Jaffey QC in pursuing an important discrimination case against the Ministry for Justice. We're confident she will play a significant role in assisting Tom Hickman QC and Jason Pobjoy to demand transparency on Exercise Cygnus.

We're moving forwards rapidly and will keep you updated.

@DrMQureshi
@JRcovid19 @54kdoctors @LeighDay_Law

Update 4

Dr Moosa Qureshi

May 27, 2020

JRcovid19 update: "pre-action protocol"

This is just a quick update on where we are with our legal case.

During the last few weeks, the JRcovid19 legal team have been pursuing the Judicial Review pre-action protocol, which enables legal parties to understand and properly identify the issues in dispute before going to court, and also provides an opportunity to settle the dispute without legal proceedings.

We have exchanged numerous “pre-action letters” with lawyers acting for the Secretary of State for Health. These letters have been helpful in formulating our respective positions but unfortunately the Government has continued to refuse disclosure. Leigh Day solicitors Tessa Gregory and Carolin Ott have provided me with phenomenal legal representation during this complex process.

We continue to believe that full disclosure of the findings of Exercise Cygnus is incredibly important to understand why the UK's mortality rate has been so high, and to prepare for any second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. We think we have a strong case. We will keep you updated with further developments.

Please spread the word: https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/jrcovid19/

@DrMQureshi
@JRcovid19 @54kdoctors @LeighDay_Law

Update 3

Dr Moosa Qureshi

May 11, 2020

Exercise Cygnus - we want full disclosure

We've read the Cygnus Report recently published in the Guardian, and we believe it leaves many questions unanswered. It beggars belief that a Tier 1 Exercise looking at a respiratory viral pandemic did not comprehensively address personal protective equipment (PPE) or ventilators. The leaked document also seems at odds with recent comments from Baroness Blackwood that one of the important steps taken in response to Exercise Cygnus was to "scale up" the supply of PPE.

Today we've written to the Government asking for confirmation that the document published by the Guardian on 7 May 2020 is authentic, but also reiterating our request for full disclosure of all documents related to Exercise Cygnus, including any documents showing conclusions relating to the supply of PPE and/or ventilators.

In other words, our legal action for full disclosure continues. Please spread the word: https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/jrcovid19

@DrMQureshi
@JRcovid19 @54kdoctors @LeighDay_Law

Update 2

Dr Moosa Qureshi

May 7, 2020

Our response to the leaked "Cygnus Report"

Response to leaked Cygnus Report: Leigh Day press release



Update 1

Dr Moosa Qureshi

April 26, 2020

Our case makes national newspaper headlines within 12 hours

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