Standing Committee on Pandemic Preparedness: interim report

The Interim Report from the Standing Committee on Pandemic Preparedness, responds to the First Minister's Commission to the Committee. Further information on the Committee and the Commission is available at

Chair’s Summary

This Interim report from the Standing Committee on Pandemic Preparedness responds to the Commission[1] to the Committee issued by the First Minister.

Scotland has many reasons to be grateful over the last 30 months in its quest to combat one of the defining challenges to humanity in the last 100 years.

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the strength and commitment of our NHS and social care workers and public health professionals and scientists in the public sector, research institutions, and industry to public service. The value of bringing these sectors together was immense, and was complemented by significant roles played by individuals, families, and communities. Yet despite this commitment, SARS-CoV-2 caused immeasurable suffering, widespread societal harm, and amplified health disparities. Looking ahead, it is vital to ensure that Scotland is as prepared as possible for any future risks from novel synthetic and biological pathogens. I have therefore been honoured to be asked by the First Minister to convene the Standing Committee on Pandemic Preparedness and to present this interim report. I want to record my gratitude to my colleagues on the Committee who have given their time and expertise willingly and pro bono.

In going about our work, we have drawn on expertise across aspects of Scotland’s pandemic preparedness system. We present that work in what follows and there are recommendations that are for us and others to take forward in the coming year, but I would identify four big-ticket recommendations for Scotland to focus on in the coming period (see Figure 1).

First, we believe that if there is one dominant theme to our work, it is the value and importance of collaboration. We therefore suggest that we work with Public Health Scotland to produce proposals for a Centre of Pandemic Preparedness with the purpose of anticipating, preparing for and responding to pandemics. The Centre will act as a nexus for collaboration between Scotland’s public health, research and academic communities and be supplemented by input from the wider NHS, industry and government. The Centre will create a critical mass of expertise and leadership across sectors committed to protecting the citizens of Scotland and the world from infectious disease threats.

Second, any novel pathogen with pandemic potential will be likely to emerge quickly and its impacts will be felt across society. From the biology of the pathogen through to the views and behaviour of the public, data and analysis as basic infrastructure is required to understand and respond to emerging threats. Scotland has real opportunities here to build on its proven strengths, but significant challenges remain. For that reason, we propose a high priority is to support proposals as to how Scotland can enhance data collection and analysis in a trustworthy way as a matter of urgency. This work should start now as it is the backbone of pandemic preparedness.

Third, the provision of swift and independent scientific advice specific to Scotland’s context has been a novel, but hugely valued support to decision-making. Our proposal here is that those functions and the connections to wider UK decision-making bodies are formalised, and international networks reinforced.

And finally, the new tools at our disposal have shown us what can be achieved in the fields of diagnostics, vaccines, and therapeutics. We have seen huge steps forward in technology, clinical trials and regulatory processes. The final area in which we expect to be active in the coming 12 months is how Scotland works across public health, research and industry to create a “triple helix partnership” that supports innovation while also boosting our own life sciences and research competitiveness.

I believe these are important and achievable ambitions to which the Scottish Government and its partners will wish to respond.

Our work is quite deliberately not an exhaustive review of pandemic preparedness, nor a prescription to solve all the problems. Instead, we have been guided by three principles. First, we have sought to make recommendations that are useful, evidence-based, and sustainable. Second, we have not attempted to set out every aspect of what is needed for a global system to respond to the next pandemic. Rather, we have focused in on Scotland’s needs and on those areas and issues where we think Scotland is well placed to take the opportunities to improve our future performance in the light of recent learning and new technologies. Third and finally, we have sought to give priority to those areas where we see opportunities to take forward our work by learning and sharing with others in Scotland and beyond.

All of us have reasons to be grateful to our scientists and clinicians, but also to the population of Scotland who have in conditions of huge uncertainty and pressure been asked to make massive sacrifices, and done so. I want to make sure as we develop our proposals and finalise our advice, we solicit comments through a strong commitment to consultation and community engagement. In the next phase of this work, the Standing Committee will bring partners together to consult widely with a commitment to producing a final report, which will focus on how the operational reality of our next response can be optimised. We look forward to working in partnership as we take our work forward.

Figure 1. Summary of Key Recommendations

  • Centre of Pandemic Preparedness
  • Data and analysis as national infrastructure
  • UK and globalcollaboration for innovation and preparedness
  • Strengthened scientific advice and structures and citizen engagement

Pandemics are inevitable and likely to occur more frequently in the future than in the past. They are included in the most damaging category of events identified in the UK National Risk Register[2], as the experience of COVID-19 has starkly proven.

To that end, the Scottish Government established the Standing Committee on Pandemic Preparedness, with a remit to ensure that Scotland is as well prepared as possible for future pandemics. The First Minister’s Commission[3] to the Committee sets out the advice requested by the Scottish Government, which the Committee will respond to in its final report.

The Commission requires that the final report is provided within 18 months of the submission of the Committee’s interim report, and specifies that the interim report should set out:

  • Initial advice on priority work that should commence as soon as possible to improve preparedness for future pandemics; and
  • Interim conclusions on any of the issues covered by the Commission where, in the Committee’s view, it is helpful to do so in advance of their final report.

Scotland and the Global Context

Pandemics present a global challenge. COVID-19 has demonstrated the need for researchers, policy makers, and governments to address the multiple dimensions of pandemics not only within, but also across sovereign boundaries to ensure that all countries are better equipped to prevent, detect, respond to, and recover from health crises.



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