Treat prospect of future pandemics like defence threats – former vaccine tsar

The threat of a future pandemic should be put on a par with potential defence threats, the former head of the vaccine taskforce has said.

Dame Kate Bingham urged ministers to ensure the country is better prepared for future disease outbreaks.

It comes after she gave a damning speech about the bureaucratic workings of the civil service.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We do invest in our defence forces, we do recognise it’s important to look around the world and develop intelligence to plan for all sorts of different scenarios when it comes to our national defence.”

Dame Kate added: “This pandemic, devastating how 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.”

In a speech at Oxford University on Tuesday, Dame Kate said that the UK was “neglecting” the threat of future pandemics and urged ministers to act now to build defences against a future catastrophe.

She called for a pandemic security adviser or minister to ensure the UK’s preparedness capabilities, arguing that healthcare threats are just as serious as national security and defence and should be treated with the same importance.

Meanwhile, 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”.