Covid advisers should not have been given honours until after inquiry, says ex-ONS official

The Government’s Covid advisers should not have been awarded honours until the national inquiry into the pandemic concludes, a former official at the Office for National Statistics has said.

Dr Jenny Harries, the head of the UK Health Security Agency, received a damehood in the New Year Honours List, while Prof Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, was knighted.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser – knighted in the 2019 New Year list – was elevated to a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath.

But Jamie Jenkins, a former head of health analysis at the ONS, suggested the decision was “premature” because we are “still in a pandemic”. 

Frontline health and social care workers ‘barely get a mention’

He told The Telegraph the advisers should not be given awards “for just doing their jobs” while frontline health and social care workers “barely get a mention”.

“The big thing for me is they’ve given these top awards, but we haven’t even had an inquiry for Covid-19 yet and it may be that it comes out with some positive feedback for what they’ve done, or some criticism,” he said.

“And it seems that they’re giving awards when we’re still in a pandemic, and there’s been no scrutiny over the decisions that they have had influence over. So is it a bit premature?”

The advice given to the Government by the three officials will have “helped some people, but they’ve also impacted negatively on others”, Mr Jenkins added.

The Government announced that a public inquiry into the pandemic would begin this spring and would be chaired by Baroness Heather Hallett. No date has been given for when it would conclude.

Dame Jenny, the head of NHS Test and Trace, received a damehood despite ongoing problems with access to rapid lateral flow Covid tests.

Demand for tests has surged over Christmas and the New Year, with pharmacies reporting “patchy” supply. The shortages have also impacted NHS staffing levels, with people unable to provide negative test results to end isolation.

Robert Dingwall, a former government Covid adviser from Nottingham Trent University, said being an adviser during the pandemic “is a pretty unenviable task” and praised Dame Jenny as a “conscientious public servant”.

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