Initial learning from the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic


Last week (May 19), the National Audit Office (NAO) published a report that pulls together the initial learning from 17 previously published reports on the government’s response to COVID-19. The aim is to help government to evaluate its performance, capitalise on new ways of working and better manage potential future emergencies.

This report sets out the learning across six key themes:

• Risk management

• Transparency and public trust

• Data and evidence

• Coordination and delivery models

• Supporting and protecting people

• Financial and workforce pressures

COVID-19 has stress-tested the government’s ability to deal with unforeseen events, and like many countries the UK was not as prepared for the pandemic as it could have been. There have been many examples of impressive national and local responses to the urgent need for healthcare and economic support on an unprecedented scale. 

The response to the pandemic has provided a vast amount of new learning – both from what has worked well and what has not. It has highlighted the importance of government adopting a more systematic approach to preparing for crises, improving the resilience of key services and making better use of data.

The pandemic has also laid bare existing fault lines within society and exacerbated inequalities. An unreformed adult social care system, workforces shortages, issues caused by legacy IT systems and the financial pressure felt by central and local government all require long-term solutions.


Among the learning:

• Placing the NHS and local government on a sustainable footing, to improve their ability to respond to future emergencies

• Providing appropriate support to frontline and other key workers to cope with the physical mental and emotional demands of responding to the pandemic

• Integrating health and social care and placing social care on an equal footing with the NHS

• Ensuring there is effective coordination and communication between government departments, central and local government, and private and public sector bodies

• Improving the accuracy, completeness and interoperability of key datasets and sharing them promptly across delivery chains

• Producing clear and timely communications

Gareth Davies, Head of the NAO, says: “COVID-19 has required government to respond to an exceptionally challenging and rapidly changing treat. There is much to learn from the successes and failures in government’s response and this report is our initial contribution to that process. Applying these lessons is not only important for the remaining phases of the current pandemic but should also help better prepare the UK for future emergencies.”

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