Scientific advisers believed Nightingale hospitals would be overwhelmed by mid-November

Scientific advisers wrongly suggested that the NHS Nightingale hospitals would be overwhelmed by mid-November when was persuaded to trigger a second coronavirus lockdown.

A document shown to the Prime Minister at the end of last month projected that hospitals in the South-West and North-West would be swamped by this point – but hospitals in the two regions are not full, and the Nightingale hospitals have not so far been needed.

It is the second of three crucial documents that helped to convince Mr Johnson to instigate lockdown to have been called into question. A claim that 4,000 people per day could be dying of Covid by December was based on information that was already out of date, it emerged earlier this month.

MPs have said it is further evidence that the Prime Minister put the country into lockdown based on flawed scientific advice presented by Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, and Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser.

A Cabinet Office analysis of hospital bed occupancy was shown to the Prime Minister in the days before he rushed out an announcement of the second national lockdown following a high-profile leak. It said that “on the current trajectory” the NHS would not be able to accept any more patients by Christmas week, and that the South-West and North-West would be the first areas to run out of capacity.

The graphic suggested the South-West would have “exceeded surge capacity, including Nightingale capacity” by November 14, with the North-West in the same situation a day later.

Crucially, the graph claimed it would take three weeks for a lockdown to have “any impact on hospital admissions”, meaning the latest lockdown, which has been in place for less than a fortnight, cannot be the reason the projection has proved to be wrong.

The three-tier system of restrictions was already in place when the projections were made, meaning it was taken into account in the modelling undertaken by a sub-committee of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).

Steve Baker, a member of the newly-formed Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, has written to Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, and the Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove to demand changes in the way the Government takes advice from experts.

He said: “I am appalled that such poor modelling has made a contribution to locking down the UK, with all the harm that entails. We see clearly now just how urgent and important it is that we reform the use of models in public policy. I have written to ministers setting out a plan.”

Mr Baker told the ministers that at least one “devil’s advocate” expert should attend all meetings at which Sage advice was discussed in order to challenge the group’s opinion and present alternative views.

A Government spokesman said: “The Prime Minister was given a range of advice, but the core reasoning behind the decision was to protect the NHS. We have never said these were predictions – they were projections. The number of people being hospitalised continues to rise.”

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