Freedom of Information: News

Ministers take openDemocracy to court to avoid handing over secret Covid review

The Department of Health and Social Care has appealed to a tribunal to avoid having to hand over the documents

Jenna Corderoy
Jenna Corderoy
7 December 2022, 1.02pm

Eat Out to Help Out, the government's scheme to encourage the public to return to high street restaurants and cafes in summer 2020. The Department of Health and Social Care has been sitting on a 'lessons learnt' review of the pandemic for 18 months

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PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

The government is taking openDemocracy to court to resist having to publish its secret “lessons learnt” review of the Covid pandemic.

Chiefs at the Department of Health and Social Care only last month agreed to publish the document, following an 18-month Freedom of Information battle that ended with a disclosure order by the independent watchdog.

But we were told today that the department had lodged an appeal against the order by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). It means an information tribunal is likely to be held next year.

Layla Moran, the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, called it a “blatant attempt by the government to gloss over its cack-handed management of the pandemic” and “an insult to the British public”.

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The news coincides with the launch and publication of former health secretary Matt Hancock’s pandemic diaries as a hardback book – and the same department’s refusal to hand over his official ministerial diaries covering the same period.

openDemocracy has a strong record of winning Freedom of Information cases – our most recent being against the Cabinet Office.  

The existence of the ‘lessons learnt’ review was revealed by HuffPost UK last year. But the DHSC refused to hand it over, claiming that its release would be “likely to undermine the safe space for experts and government officials to debate live policy issues”. 

It is thought to be the work of civil servants in the DHSC conducting internal assessments of what went wrong to improve best practice.

An independent inquiry into the UK’s response to the pandemic is already under way. Officially launched in July, the inquiry will examine how well prepared the UK was for a pandemic, as well as the decisions taken by the UK government once Covid arrived.

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